Peninsula Ballet Theatre’s Dracula, October 26

14 Nov

The refurbished Fox Theater in Redwood City provides a lush movie heyday atmosphere, even though half the orchestra seats have been removed to provide a more multi-use venue. It  has the advantage of enough height so that it can fly scenery, making for real theater.

The Fox has become Peninsula Ballet Theatre (PBT)’s resident theater, organized originally  by modern dancer Richard Ford and ballet teacher Richard Gibson in 1967.  Gibson trained Kristine Elliott and Kenny Delmar among other serious dancers. Both Richards went on to other dance-related activities and both company and school was guided for some time by the late Ann Copozzi Bena and her daughter Rosine. The latter is now artistic director of the Sierra Nevada Ballet in Reno, and a certified teacher in the ABT curriculum.

A brief number of seasons ensued before Carlos Carvajal settled in for a nine-year run as artistic director utilizing competent dancers from a variety of schools for the annual ‘Nutcracker’ and a few programs of Carvajal ballets. Carvajal was responsible for engaging Chris Christensen as music conductor of “Nutcracker.” The production was distinctive because  local adult  individuals performed in the First Act, honing their roles through the years with remarkable skill. Carvajal added wonderful touches for the Act II variations. During the Carvajal tenure Claude Dietrich A. was commissioned by President Christine Leslie to design the company’s fluid logo.

Prior to Bruce Stieval’s arrival in 2009, the company was briefly directed by Michael Lowe and Mario Alonso,  dancers with Oakland Ballet when it was directed by Ronn Guidi.  Stieval, artistic director of Nevada Ballet Theatre following the retirement of founding artistic director Vassili Sulich, came to PBT with credits as chairman of the former Luxembourg International Ballet Competition, extensive directorial experience in Hong Kong, Korea and reputation as a master teacher internationally.  Christine Leslie, long-time PBT President, has become executive director of the organization and in charge of the re-activated school.

Stieval’s Dracula had the advantage of atmospheric music of the Polish composer Wojciech Kilar, awarded the 1992 ASCAP award for the musical he provided by Francis Ford Coppola’s film “Dracula.” The taped music, with the exception of the Johann Strauss II’s waltz in Act I, must have come from the movie’s score.

In his conception Stieval switched  artistic Christian  forms from  Orthodox to  Roman, evidenced in the chapel where the central figure is Christ crucified, feet crossed. As a suicide Dracula’s dead wife is denied Christian burial.  Dracula’s curse to God turns him into a vampire.  The scene, enhanced by eight nuns and a priest, introduced guest artist Milos Marijan. His Dracula is a handsome young man, long tapering legs, excellent pirouettes and jetes.  On the agenda, rapid transitions of location, and fateful bedtime activities.

A Victorian garden scene followed where the music supplied is a Johann Strauss II waltz, chosen because Stieval could not retrieve similar music from the Kilar composition roster. The garden  backdrop conveyed more sunlit Italian piazza than dappled English garden.  Lucy, about to meet her death at the hands of Milos Marijan’s  Dracula, was danced by Amanda McGovern, enjoying the attentions of suitors Aiden DeYoung, Michael Dunsmore and Jacob Kreamer. Mina, guest artist Bojana Zegarac, appears, affianced to Jonathan,  a bystander. During a later stroll, Lucy and Dracula meet and Dracula starts his destruction.  Mina, walking in the garden, is drawn to Dracula.

Jonathan in the meantime is in Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania to handle  business affairs; at night in bed he finds he must fend off three malevolent female figures, greedy for gore,  making for many lifts and females running around the bed .

In London, Lucy is attended by Professor Helsing a vampire authority, advising garlic clusters, the cross and holy water as protection. Alone, Dracula manages to circumvent the protections and drains Lucy’s blood.

Helsing and Lucy’s suitors discuss Lucy’s death and the way to release her soul.  Jonathan arrives. At the crypt she is missing;  she is searching for a victim.  She tries to lure Jonathan.  When her body lies in the crypt one of the quartet drives a stake in her heart to release her spirit.

You guessed it, Mina and Dracula meet in Mina’s bedroom .  Love springs between them and Mina offers herself to Dracula, so dying at his hands, she too can become a vampire.  The suitors arrive to save her, but Mina follows Dracula.

The countryside, en route to Dracula’s castle, sees the ensemble’s orgy while protecting a casket from which Dracula later appears.  Mina disappears and the suitors cope with disbursing Dracula’s wives.  The casket is lain at the altar, Dracula emerges.  Mina appears, the suitors fight to save her, and manage to kill Dracula.  Mina has disappeared, but then she arrives  Dracula enfolds her in his arms placing them both in the casket and closes the lid.

Stievel created his group scenes with skill, whether ecclesiastical, social or wildly rustic.  Given the plot some  pas de deux were predictable while beautifully executed by the guest artists. .  Because of the plot, a seamless progression from scene to scene is impossible, but overall it was enjoyable and absorbing.  I must say I rarely have enjoyed a bow as much as Zegarac’s,  the picture of graceful acknowledgment  was rendered at an angle  making one realize Belgrade’s Opera House’s former  royal box  must be close to stage left.

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