Dracula is a rather apt production during this global COVID-19 momentum where there are apparently many stir-crazy people out for the blood of politicians. They can at least take solace that the confines, to which they must adhere, are not coffins.
Coffins, as you would imagine – copious, black, unadorned, and strewn across a vast stone-clad cloister awaiting their voracious occupants as the sun slowly rises – are a feature of one of the many visually dazzling moments of this West Australian Ballet production (co-produced with Queensland Ballet). At one point in this cloister, a scene with Dracula caught in a cone of down-light, is like a Vemeer painting in its composition, intensity, and impact.
Oscar Valdés as Jonathan Harker with Alexa Tuzil, Glenda Garcia Gomez and Claire Voss as Vampire Brides in Dracula (2020). Photograph © Bradbury Photography
Choreographer Krzysztof Pastor has woven this myth – which he sees as essentially a love story – into a composite of beauty in its set design, lighting, costumes and musical diversity (all of which he had a hand in.) He asks of his dancers a mix of styles based on classical, modern, ballet-style waltzes and vaudeville but most of all he demands of them an actor’s acumen. They obviously relish measuring up to his exacting demands.
Krzysztof’s opening exposition is clear and concise and sets up this story dramatically. It begins in the 15th century and hints, through its medieval clothing and its cutlass-like swords, at its origins based on the cruel Romanian prince, Vlad the Impaler. An impassioned, beautifully executed duet as Dracula leaves his beloved wife Elizabeth to go to war, is echoed later when, in the 19th century, Jonathan Hawker (Oscar Valdés) leaves his fiancée, Mina to travel to Transylvania to close a deal on a London property for the long-widowed and now chief vampire Count Dracula.
The likeness of Elizabeth and Mina is the catalyst for the ensuing mayhem. Carina Roberts is utterly magnetic, playing both parts with disarming grace, intelligence and clarity. As Mina’s fated friend Lucy, Chihiro Nomura is equally exquisite –her yearning sweetness to be bruised and sullied by the fangs of the aging Dracula. You can understand, though, why vampires would want to sink their teeth into their gorgeous willowy necks. Both Valdés and Julio Blanes (as Lucy’s fiancé) were terrific in their passion and powerful physical agility. Craziness takes some nailing but Jesse Homes’ emotional intensity as the asylum-based Renfield, who tries to warn of Dracula’s intents, was spot-on.
Aurélien Scannella as Old Dracula with Julio Blanes as Arthur Holmwood and Chihiro Nomura as Lucy Westenra in Dracula (2020). Photograph © Bradbury Photography
Dancers are asked to plunge themselves into various scenarios – a Romanian castle, an English stately home, an asylum and a gloomy cemetery. Whether depicting blood-thirsty vampires (or their victims), wealthy, sheltered aristocrats, crazy inmates or sleuths armed with crosses and stakes, they sail through the trickiest intricacies with compelling ardour and technique.
As for the protagonist, Pastor has envisaged two personas for Dracula – one callous and aging (Aurélien Scannella) and one young and still possessing vestiges of nobility (Matthew Lehmann.) Artistic Director, Scannella was inveigled out of retirement to play this part and tackles it handsomely. They roam at liberty from the dark, cloistered depravity of their abode to the light-hearted frivolity of Victorian London. Both Scannella and Lehmann are impressive. Scannella demonstrates the angst of an ailing, aging Dracula, yet with subtle agility turns his victims easily into acquiescence. It is not until faced with Mina that his intransigence begins to succumb. Lehmann in all his youthful vigour is equally dramatic. His amusing and powerful duet with a pretty scared Valdes in the imposing castle is a highlight. Scannella and Lehmann complement each other in their interaction with, and empathetic understanding of, this complex character.
Chihiro Nomura as Lucy Westenra and Kassidy Thompson as Mrs Westenra in Dracula (2020). Photograph © Bradbury Photography
The music played by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra under the talented conductor Jessica Gethin is based on several pieces by Wojciech Kilar, some of which are from the score to Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In its colour and tone, turbulent chord changes and mood swings, it is a fine adjunct to the action whether taking place in partying London or the dank catacombs of the vampire castle. Since the last WAB production of Dracula in 2018, Joshua Davis was called in to rearrange the music, due to the original score being assessed as unsuitable for the musicians to play repeatedly. Maybe because of this adjustment, there are occasions when the quivering strings motif is perpetuated for too long.
In their scope, diversity and minute attention to detail, the set and costumes (Phil R. Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith) are full of texture and quite breathtaking yet never intrusive enough to detract from the necessary emotional involvement required, as is the lighting by Jon Buswell and Michael Rippon.
Krzysztof, with his talented team, has created an ingeniously devised, eloquent and timeless drama and the West Australian Ballet Company is more than up to the intricate task of bringing his flesh and blood Dracula magnificently to life.
Dracula plays at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Perth until September 26