Sunday, March 2, 2014

Dracula in Kansas City

My wife, Erika, spent much of her childhood taking ballet lessons, and though she packed away her pointe shoes some time ago, she still loves the ballet. It is not, however, one of my passions -- and yet there is this (see picture above).  

Dracula has long been one of my favorite films (the Tod Browning/Bela Lugosi version, of course) and one of my favorite stories. There's a picture somewhere of a 10 year old me at my brother Jan's college graduation, holding a book I'd brought along to read during the long ceremony -- Bram Stoker's Dracula. It was on loan from our home town library -- and being from the "adult" section, I recall having to get my parents' permission before our stereotypically uptight librarian would allow me to check it out!

So, on this rare occasion, when my wife's interests converged with mine, there wasn't much question that we had to take in the Kansas City Ballet's production of Stoker's classic vampire story. I can hear the monster/horror fans out there groaning --- "Ballet? Dracula? Really? Are you kidding?" Well, yes, yes, yes and no.

This was no light and fluffy thing -- but a beautifully produced, moody, faithful adaptation, that was at times genuinely disturbing and creepy. Anthony Krutzkamp's Count Dracula was powerful, commanding and malevolent -- a physically imposing character who treated the other characters/dancers like puppets on a string. 

The look of the production was equal parts Murnau (Nosferatu 1922) and Coppola (Bram Stoker's Dracula 1992), with the Count often wearing a long flowing red coat reminiscent of the costuming in both films. The set design, lighting, etc. were all superb, and on a par with the slickest productions I've seen. Scenery and costumes were on loan from the Atlanta Ballet -- so this would have looked familiar to anyone who saw their production. Anyone thinking this would be somehow a low rent show because it's Kansas City (not NY or LA, y'know!) would be proven quite wrong.

This production has been around since 1996, though I'd not known about until it came to KC. That's what I get for not paying attention to the world of ballet, I suppose. Phillip Feeny's score was wonderful (played by the KC symphony). I had no frame of reference to judge the quality of the dancing (choreography by Michael Pink) -- but my wife assures me that it was excellent. 

The story adhered quite closely to Stoker's novel -- one of the more faithful adaptations I've seen -- and had moments that were as nightmarish as any film adaptation. Dracula slicing open his chest with his fingernail for Mina to drink his blood -- luring his brides away from Harker by offering them a sack full of baby -- chilling stuff. Any horror fan going in with a reluctant "Dracula -- in tights?" (there were no tights -- full costumes for all) attitude would have been turned around quite quickly by this dreamlike presentation of one of "our" stories. The lack of any real spoken dialogue (Mina and Jonathan's names are shouted briefly -- but that's it), making the story dependent on the music and visuals (sets, dance, special effects) made it closer in tone to watching a silent film with a good score than seeing a traditional play or a modern film. Again, Murnau's version of the tale often came to mind.

I did think the second act lagged a little (first scene goes on a bit too long) -- and Renfield didn't quite have enough purpose -- but that's kind of true in the novel as well. Minor quibbles, though. All in all, I thought it was an amazing show - and this non-ballet fan would highly recommend it to anyone who loves the Dracula story. Unfortunately, today is the last day for the KC production, and I don't know if any tickets are still available -- so I can only suggest you watch for any local productions that might crop up in the future. If they are as good as this one was, you won't regret attending.


Here's  a promotional video for the show -- different dancers than we saw -- but it will give you a good idea of the look and tone of the production. 

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