From scenes of horror and violence to exquisitely tender moments, Dracula the ballet is a triumph.
Melissa Boniface, Matthew Edwardson, Oliver Edwardson and Aurelien Scannella in Dracula. Photo by Jon Green.
Aurélein Scannella first performed the leading role of Dracula as a young teenager, and his fascination with Bram Stoker’s macabre story stayed with him for the next 25 years while he gained the well-deserved reputation as a Principal dancer with world-renowned ballet companies. He never dreamed that he would, as a 44-year old Belgian-born country boy, reproduce the Irish author’s famous story in Australia, in collaboration with the Polish choreographer he had admired all his life, Krzysztof Pastor.
As Artistic Director with the West Australian Ballet Company since 2013, Scannella has not only inspired dancers to greater heights but now also performed the role of the older Dracula in the company's new ballet, with such extraordinary skill and passion that even Nureyev would have been humbled.
Noticeable among the male dancers in this presentation was their height and incredible physicality, with Scannella dominating at well over six feet, yet his movements were consistently elegant, twirling female and male dancers around with the lightest of touches. His Argentinian-style tango duet with Oscar Valdes, as Jonathan Harker, the solicitor, was synchronised poetry in motion to Wojciech Kilar’s powerful music from the film Jealousy & Medicine. Twenty six pieces of music composed by Kilar, many from Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 horror film, Bram Stoker's Dracula, were adapted for Dracula and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra by librettist, Pawel Chynowski and arranger, Michael Brett. The tiny figure of Chinese conductor, Judith Yan, belied the sounds she brought from the orchestra pit of the beautiful Edwardian theatre, far removed from the dark Victorian days in which the story was originally set.
The noir began as the heavy red curtain went up and sombre music accompanied a dramatic, medieval wartime scene with men using broadswords to attack Dracula. From this beginning and throughout the whole two-hour performance the dancing by every member of this company was faultless. In the party scenes, the diaphanous costumes, designed by Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith and painstakingly produced by Lyndell Darch and team, allowed the female dancers the freedom to move effortlessly and in perfect synch around an uncluttered stage.
Matthew Lehmann as Dracula with his Vampire Brides (Alexa Tuzil, Kymberleigh Cowley and Sarah Hepburn). Photo by Jon Green.
In contrast to the scenes of violence and horror, there were exquisitely tender scenes between the young Dracula, Matthew Lehmann and the versatile, Carina Roberts who was, originally, a poignant, then tragic Elizabeth, only to return as Mina, wooed by Jonathon and both young and old Draculas. The company has 37 dancers from 11 different countries, and a solo by Japanese dancer, Gakuro Matsui, brought a large round of applause, as did that of Jesse Homes as the maddened Renfield.
Scannella wanted the audience to see the character of Dracula in a more romantic light and Pastor ensured the dancers delivered emotion as well as skill. As a world first for the longest-running professional ballet company in Australia, Scannella has not only delivered a new level of creative energy but, by dancing the leading role, has demonstrated new and effortless moves with those he partnered. His agility, timing and sense of theatre is what puts this production in a uniquely superior position on the world stage.
The humanity of the man was endearing when, in spite of his masterful performance on stage, he was clearly nervous delivering his after-show speech of thanks to the company, as well as to his beautiful wife, dancer, Sandy Delasalle, now Principal Ballet Mistress and Artistic Associate.
Ballet is so closely related to physical sports that perhaps this amazing production will convince some footy-loving men that ballet is not just something for women in tutus.
Dracula, the ballet, was a triumph, if a little long, but the program gives a detailed description of the story and, for the uninitiated, it is advisable to read it and the several biographies in order to completely relax and absorb the intricacies, not only of the performances, but also the rather complicated story itself.
4 ½ stars: ★★★★☆
West Australian Ballet
With West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Judith Yan
Choreographer: Krzysztof Pastor
Artistic Director: Aurélien Scannella
Sets & Costumes: Phil R.Daniels & Charles Cusick Smith
Lighting: Jon Buswell
Libretto: Pawel Chynowski
Music: Wojciech Kilar
Arranger: Michael Brett
A co-production with Queensland Ballet
His Majesty’s Theatre, Hay St, Perth, WA