Tom Strini
Milwaukee Ballet’s “Dracula”

Bloody good fun

By - Oct 28th, 2011 03:07 am
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David Hovhannisyan, as Dracula, seduces Valerie Harmon’s Mina. Milwaukee Ballet photo by Kim Kenney.

Impressive skill and calculation pulse through every moment of Michael Pink’s Dracula, which the Milwaukee Ballet revived Thursday at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall.

Pink has created a florid, swirling, swooning, serpentine idiom that holds throughout the piece. It could not be more apt for such an overheated late-Romantic tale. It’s sexy for its sinuous, physical ways and for its close-contact, roaming-hands partnering. David Hovhannisyan, sensational in the title role Thursday, oozed a cool, cruel sex appeal. Luz San Miguel, as the flirtatious Lucy, immediately turned liquid in his spell, except for the shudder of pleasure and pain at the bite. Valerie Harmon, who combines a long, lovely delicacy with a certain athletic wholesomeness, offered just a touch more resistance, as Mina. But once seduced, Harmon’s Mina was all in and threw herself into Dracula’s fatal caresses with admirable abandon.

Ryan Martin, who usually comes across as the All-American jock, endowed Harker with emotional depth and complexity. Much of Act 1 takes place in Harker’s head, in a swirl of dreams and hallucinations of his trip to Dracula’s castle. Martin expressed Harker’s confusion by means of a physical tension based on the impossible goal of moving in opposite directions at once. The psychology of it is that Harker is trying to tear himself apart and doesn’t know where to turn with the horror he’s witnessed and can’t shake.

Pink took great care with the ensemble dances. I very much like the way he peppered the hotel tea dance waltzes with ragtime syncopations nowhere to be heard in Philip Feeney’s score. In the furious peasant dance in the Translyvanian  pub, the women stoop throughout. At first, it seems submissive; but the more they move, the more that low center of gravity and scuttling force speak of strength earned by carrying the burden of the looming terror in the castle nearby.


Hovhannisyan seducing Lucy, played by Luz San Miguel. Kim Kenny photo for the Milwaukee Ballet.

As always in his big theatricals, Pink conspired with his designers (Paul Pyrant and Patrick Howard, lights, and Lez Brotherston, scenery and costumes) to create a cinematic flow. It’s ingenious, really; a little fog rolls in, and suddenly you’re in a ruined chapel wondering where that bright hotel has gone and how you missed its exit.

But Pink is fuzzier than usual in his storytelling. We were deep into Act 3 before I was quite sure about which one was Van Helsing (Justin Genna). And I’m still not sure why Mina is in Van Helsing’s sanatorium or why half the population of London keeps trooping through her bedroom. But in the general dreaminess of the story and the imagery of this production, such oddities are not that big a deal.

Composer Philip Feeney blended some pre-recorded effects with live orchestra (the company’s ensemble, led by Andrews Sill) into an overheated late-Romantic accompaniment.  It’s lurid and derivative (of Ravel, Orff, Puccini and even Enesco, for the peasant dance). But the music works in context, it’s danceable, and it never fails to instruct you as to how to feel about a particular moment.

Dracula is a popular entertainment, and a good one, but it amuses rather than engages. It’s not great art, it doesn’t take you in. You don’t worry about the little blonde girl, even though you just know that Lucy will suck her dry. Except for Martin/Harker, the show doesn’t dig very deep. Dracula is at its worst — and unintentionally funniest — when Pink tries hardest to shock. That would be in the last scene, when a horde of inexplicably zombie-like vampires slither into the ruined chapel. They feed en masse on poor Renfield (a wonderfully twitchy Petr Zahradnicek). Then, faces smeared with fake blood, they do the mash. They do the monster mash.

The Milwaukee Ballet Company will repeat Dracula at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 30). The above cast will play it Saturday evening. Friday night and Sunday afternoon, this cast will take the principal roles: Dracula, Joshua Reynolds; Harker, Zahradnicek; Lucy, Nicole Teague; Mina, Susan Gartell; Van Helsing, Martin; Renfield, Dennis Malinkine. For tickets, call the Marcus Center box office, 414 273-7206.

Saturday, the company will throw a Trans-Fusion Halloween party. $75 gets you a show ticket and the party; if you have a ticket already, add $50 for the party. Click on the link above or on the ad on the TCD Arts & Culture home page for details.


Luz San Miguel and friends; Mmm mmm good Renfield! Milwaukee Ballet photo by Kim Kenney.

Categories: A/C Feature 1, Dance

0 thoughts on “Milwaukee Ballet’s “Dracula”: Bloody good fun”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I did not know the story of Dracula other than a few superficial blood sucking details. I did not read the dance synopsis in the program. Therefore I could not understand nor figure out what was going on and who was who other than a few obvious ones. (Friday night)

    Tom, you are correct that Pink was “fuzzier” than usual in his storytelling.
    Pink said we should watch the performance like it was a silent film but it needed subtitles!

    The staging was spectacular and the costumes beautiful except that the multilayers dragged down the dancers.

    I admit I already dislike these goulish tales and gave away my ticket for the first performance. Do you have any comparisons with it?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for commenting, Win. As for comparisons, Michael has a number of big theatrical ballets in the repertoire, including a Romeo and Juliet, Hunchback of Notre Dame, some other ones. — Strini

  3. Anonymous says:

    I was in town on business and just happened to buy a ticket to the Milwaukee Ballet Company’s performance of “Dracula” on Thursday, October 27th. It was absolutely spectacular and I have not stopped telling everyone about it ever since. The cast, costumes, set, music — all completely amazing, and Dracula scared me to death and captivated me all at the same time. Mr. David H. is a magnificent athlete, dancer and actor and Milwaukee has such an enormous gift with him in their city! Congratulations to the entire extremely talented cast, crew and designers!!! Ann Ray

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