Madison Ballet’s “Dracula,” a rock ballet, is not your average performance. The ballet hardly follows Bram Stoker’s novel; it instead takes the characters and main plot points and spins them into an overtly sexual reverie. But that’s OK, depending on what you’re into.
The play starts out with an organ-filled rock ballad and a repetitive clip of horse-drawn carriages, which seems like a strange way to illustrate Jonathan Harker’s journey to Dracula’s castle in Transylvania. Harker is played by dancer Brian Roethlisberger, who jumps out with a dance solo, a couple of steps and leaps, before the heavy rock welcomes the entrance of Matthew Linzer, who plays Dracula. Their encounter quickly heightens from awkward and confusing to exotic, with a quick little make-out scene before Dracula plants Harker on a board to be attacked (if you could call it that) by Dracula’s crew of sexy vampiresses. If it couldn’t get creepy enough, the lurking, crawling and sexy beasts start “confronting” Harker in a way that ultimately leads to an orgy heap in the middle of the stage. By this time, it is readily apparent that Earle Smith, the artistic director, is sucking the sexual connotations out of Stoker’s “Dracula.” He makes the play seem like a weird clothes-on pornographic adaptation of the novel with characters undulating and tonguing each other in all sorts of inappropriate ways.
The set design is masterful, the costumes are highly effective and creative and the music is genuinely entertaining, yet at times the dancers seem out of place. The moments that most call for heavy rock ‘n’ roll seem to be Dracula’s entrances, which are always strangely thrilling. The scenes between Mina (Rachelle Butler) and Harker are beautifully choreographed and make the performance worthwhile. Yet what makes this adaptation difficult to watch is the lack of acting ability. It’s as if the dancers have forgotten that they are still telling a story. When Marguerite Luksik kicks out her solo as Lucy, Butler stands in the corner pretending to read a book and making fake “Oh you silly!” faces at her gal pal. The dancers seem lost when they aren’t going at it with pirouettes and fancy leaps, which is fine, but it keeps the performance from being anything but amateur.
At times the ballet is humorous: Jackson Warring, who plays the insane patient Renfield, dances to carnival music and repeatedly grabs his crotch like a creepy clown every time Dracula comes in and entices the crazy guy with his key little “sexy dance,” which involves swinging his arms in a wave and flipping his cape seductively. At times, the theatrics get annoying and a little silly, but the plays has genuinely entertaining, touching performances. When Dracula sucks Lucy’s blood, Mina runs in to save her friend and is apparently distracted immediately by Dracula’s voluptuous curls and “charisma” (as said by the ballet guide), so she ditches her dead BFF and moves in to dance the dance with the infamous vampire. Their partnership is fascinating, and their chemistry as dancers is difficult to ignore. But it’s also difficult to ignore the fact that Lucy is dead in the background, and the Mina-Dracula love story never really happened in the novel at all. It seems rather unlikely to happen in the ballet based on the plot thus far.
Occasionally the dancers fall out of synch and lose their grip, and at times the music becomes a little campy. The sexual aspects of an intellectual novel are exploited beyond reason, and it’s difficult to know whether an individual who hadn’t read the book could infer what was happening. However, the dancing stood out, with all its twists, turns and modern elegance. Isn’t that all that matters?