BWW Preview: Milwaukee Ballet Opens their Grand Season with Sophisticated, Seductive DRACULA

BWW Preview: Milwaukee Ballet Opens their Grand Season with Sophisticated, Seductive DRACULA

A 'boy ballet with bite' arrives in Milwaukee this October to foreshadow the Halloween holiday weekend. Milwaukee Ballet presents the iconic Dracula under the leadership of Artistic Director Michael Pink and Production Manager Douglas McCubbin. The two men met almost 15 years ago when McCubbin danced Dracula's title role in the 2000 Royal New Zealand Ballet production, which then forged a fast friendship between the two artists ever since. Six months after Michael Pink arrived in Milwaukee, McCubbin followed by joining the Milwaukee Ballet and again performed the title role under Pink's direction in 2005.

While Pink collaborated with Christopher Gable while working in England to give audiences another peak at the iconic villian beginning in 1996, Dracula was originally the brainchild of Bram Stoker who published the novel in 1897. An article on smithsonian.com (October 2012) written by Jimmy Stamp credits Stoker's ill health as a child subjected bo the "blood letting" procedures popular with physicians at this time to Stoker's fascination with an aristocratic, upper class man who required blood to live.

While Stoker's story recieved mixed reviews in the late 19th centruy, actor Béla Lugosi became the legendary figure which subsequently set the standard for Count Dracula acquired from the 1931 film--which has since spawned over 215 various versions, second only to sleuth Sherlock Holmes. (Another character to create for Pink, whose creative leadership was recently extended at MKE Ballet?) Ever since Lugosi's film persona, Stoker's Gothic horror novel remains in print until this day, while Pink's Dracula has attained world-wide popularity for the past 19 years--an incredible feat for the ballet world, while admiration abounds for those who love ballet. Lugosi's sophisticated, seductive demeanor of an aristocratic villian determined the grand gestures Dracula uses to attract his feminine prey and keep his youth, which can only be stopped when he is killed by planting a wooden stake thorugh his heart.

In an interview at the MKE Ballet offices on National Avenue, McCubbin reminisced about his dancing the title role several times, working as a stage manager in another MKE production, and in 2015 overseeing the ballet as the Production Manager. He explained two complete Ballet productions currently exist in the states, and Colorado Ballet provides the costumes and sets for Milwaukee's upcoming production. However, this time in Milwaukee, David Grill lends his expertise in lighting design to transform Dracula because as McCubbin describes, "Lghting creates the atmosphere and can make or break a performance."

Davit Hovhannisyan and Alex Ferreira share the title role this October while McCubbin freely admits Dracula has become his favorite ballet, and one of his favorite roles in the dancer's 16 year career, with the picture from his performance in MIlwaukee.. This blockbuster technical production requires complex management, which McCubbin now excels in, and Phillip Fenney's intricate score continually changes tempo to "keep the dancers on edge." McCubbin says, "When the orchestra plays live music, a dancer needs to be constantly listening to the tempo, which can vary every evening, to stay on time-The beauty of a live ballet orchestra."

Then he continues, "One of the most amazing evenings was sitting in the orchestra pit for the third act of a {Dracula] performance....Listening to Fenney's score where every second bar is a time change."

McCubbin expounds further on his favorite production: "Dracula is one of the few ballets where the man plays the title role instead of a woman. He's a cool character to dance because Dracula owns the role, owns the theater."

True to Stoker's novel, and in the ballet, Dracula has been growing old and thin because he's running out of his unique noursihment. The Count moves from Translyvania to London to acquire new blood, to stay alive, and then encounters Stoker's other characters, the doctor John Seward, the scientist Van Helsing, Jonathan Harker and his fiancee, Mina, who he draws blood from. While these characters try to solve the mystery of Mina's illness, they also discover Dracula's secret and then attempt to plan Dracula's demise.

"He [Dracula] has one purpose--to survive, and have a bride by his side to insure he lives forever, to achieve immortality." McCubbins says as he describes his fascination with the story. "There's this very human quality of survival within his character, and then an evolution of age from older to younger as he gets stronger and stonger."

Perhaps this innate human quality to survive that drives Dracula strikes a chord in every individual sitting in the audeince, or the questions regarding the deepest and disturbing emotions present in all humanity, along with Dracula's quest for immortality, A quest that ultimately transforms into a diabolical need for human life that crosses lines of morality, as perhaps these instincts might trigger in the contemporary world. Pink, McCubbin and the MKE Ballet bring this dramatic life force to the stage in another stunning production of Dracula, a vision of the darker human condition completely understood through intense emotion, movment and dance--- beautiful, compelling ballet.

Milwaukee Ballet presents Michael Pink's Dracula in Uhlein Hall at the Marcus Center for the Marcus Center for tthe Performing Arts October 22-25. For further information, performance scheldule and tickets, please visit: :www.milwaukeeballet.org.

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From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan

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