Review: DRACULA at KC Ballet

Pink and Feeney's production returns to KC Ballet

By: Feb. 19, 2022
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Review: DRACULA at KC Ballet

On February 21, 2014 - eight years almost to the day - Michael Pink and Philip Feeney's production of "Dracula" appeared for the first time on the Kauffman stage. Looking back on my review at the time, I see that I mentioned that I wouldn't mind seeing it becoming part of the regular rotation of the company, perhaps making an appearance every few years or so. Well, it took a while but it is back, and I have to say that it is still every bit as enjoyable as I recall.

Of course, quite a lot has changed since then: the events between then and now would have beggared belief from the version of myself who experienced that first production. And let's face it: the idea of a monster who comes to our homes, corrupts us, and turns us into the walking dead just hits very differently now. How odd that in our darkest hours, we turn back to horror for some dark comfort.

The story follows a highly abbreviated version of the events in the book: newlywed solicitor Johnathan Harker (Lamin Pereira) goes down to Transylvania to help the mysterious Count Dracula (Liang Fu) purchase some real estate in England. While there he is tempted by three vampire women and eventually bewitched by the eponymous count himself. Later in England, his wife Mina (Danielle Fu) watches as her friend Lucy (Kaleena Burks) is bewitched and turned by the newly-arrived count. When Mina herself is the next intended victim, it is up to John and their friends Arthur, Quincey and Dr. Van Helsing (Humberto Rivera Blanco, Cameron Thomas, and Christopher Ruud respectively) to put an end to the menace once and for all.

It is worth mentioning (though not without some mild embarrassment) that this is the first time I've witnessed a staging of this material after having actually read the book, having only finished it a few weeks ago. Altogether, it is very good and quite faithful, inasmuch as such a lengthy novel must be considerably condensed for the stage. A few story elements are set to one side, others are moved around a bit, and so on. Perhaps more significantly, the character of Dr. Seward has been folded into Van Helsing. Overall, however, the ballet does an excellent job of summarizing the story.

I have spoken before about the sensual nature of this Dracula. Of course, dance is almost by definition a sensual art form, and it stands to reason that this would be the approach taken. In my previous review, I referred to the seduction of The Harkers, for indeed a seduction is exactly what it was. Pink's choreography really brings this to the fore: the scenes where Fu's Dracula ensnares his victims one by one are darkly beautiful, not to mention consummate examples of the dancers' skill (speaking of which, this reviewer would be remiss if she did not mention Kevin Wilson's Renfield, the madman who becomes Dracula's thrall. Dancing a pas de deux while in a straightjacket can be no easy task). Mention must also be made of Mr. Feeney's musical score, most particularly the call to the undead that opens ACT III, an orchestra-and-chorus work that is, no other word for it, haunting.

Looking back, I cannot help but agree with my younger self that this is a splendid production that shows off the talents of the Kansas City Ballet to great effect, and hope that we shall see it again. And if it should continue to arrive mid-season, so close on the heels of Valentine's Day, well, the sardonic in me cannot help but enjoy that too.


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