BWW Review: Vasterling's DRACULA From Nashville Ballet

BWW Review: Vasterling's DRACULA From Nashville Ballet
Judson Veach as Dracula
- photo by Karyn Photography

Darkly sensual and broodingly sexy, Paul Vasterling's balletic interpretation of Bram Stoker's legendary anti-hero Dracula (first presented in 1999 and revived in 2007) remains as potent and as stirring as ever, richly conceived and beautifully performed by the dancers of Nashville Ballet, who offer audiences a spine-tingling seasonal adventure.

Danced with powerful grace by Nashville Ballet principal Judson Veach (he shares the role with Jon Upleger, who donned the count's black velvet cape on opening night and will repeat his performance on Saturday; Veach once again stars as the dark prince for tonight's performance, following the dress rehearsal that was reviewed on Wednesday), Vasterling's Dracula gives audiences the opportunity to witness the tortured existence - if it can indeed be called that - of an artistic, even romantic, soul damned to a never-ending life in the search for fulfillment and eternal love.

Continuing through Saturday, October 24, Dracula opened Thursday night at TPAC's James K. Polk Theatre as the crown jewel of Nashville Ballet's first Fall Contemporary Series. Two pieces by Salvatore Aiello complete the program: Afternoon of a Faun, Aiello's reinterpretation of Vaslav Nijinsky's 1912 ballet set to the music of Claude Debussy, and Satto, his devastatingly sensual two-partner piece that translates the encounter between the god of wind and a leaf into a gloriously artistic dance.

Vasterling's Dracula is performed to the stirring music of Bohuslav Martinu - beautifully performed by cellist Matt Walker and pianist Melissa Rose - which is augmented by a notable sound design that gives an even more sinister feeling to the ballet. As to be expected, Vasterling's choreography showcases his Nashville Ballet dancers to the fullest of their abilities, ensuring an immersive experience that will linger in the collective psyche of the audience for some time to come. Memorable and moving, the highly charged and altogether theatrical presentation provides the ideal pre-Halloween diversion for ballet lovers, providing stunning visuals and awe-inspiring art in the process.

BWW Review: Vasterling's DRACULA From Nashville Ballet
Julia Mitchell and Judson Veach in Paul Vasterling's Dracula
- photos by Karyn Photography

Veach's troubled Dracula is thoroughly accessible and even without a printed synopsis in the playbill, it's easy to follow Vasterling's version of the tale. Rather than a slavish depiction or literal translation of Stoker's novel, the choreographer creates a highly original interpretation of the original literature that is at once very contemporary and yet respectful of its source. As a result, Vasterling's view of Dracula as a sensual and very sexy man is conveyed through the power of dance and Veach's resolute command of the stage.

In what is perhaps the most noteworthy moments of the ballet, Veach dances a stunning pas de deux of desire and death-defying theatrics with the astonishingly gorgeous Julia Mitchell, who shows off her acting abilities just as assuredly as she does her impressive ability to seem lighter than air - and oh-so-menacing - in her partnering with Veach.

BWW Review: Vasterling's DRACULA From Nashville Ballet
Christopher Stuart with Katie Vasilopoulos, Julia Eisen
and Keenan McLaren Hartman in Paul Vasterling's Dracula
- photos by Karyn Photography

Chirstopher Stuart dances the role of Jonathan with consummate grace, artfully offering his own take on another tortured soul in Dracula's universe. At the performance reviewed, Katie Vasilopoulos stepped in to dance the role of Mina (Kayla Rowser is Mina in subsequent performances) with conviction and grace, showing off her tremendous talents in the process. Brett Sjoblom's effective performance as Renfield is genuinely off-kilter and unexpected despite its clear inspiration from the novel.

They are given superb support by the dancers as the "Undead," clad in Eric Harris' evocative tattered and torn costumes, and the "Victorians," resplendent in Lindsay W. Davis' period-inspired costumes. Scott Leathers' lighting provides the perfectly dark and dour illumination for Dracula while conveying the drama of each particular moment expressed in Vasterling's view.

In the evening's opening performance of Aiello's Afternoon of a Faun, Augusto Cezar brings this version of the Faun to life with an easy grace, using all manner of angular movement and complete control in the process of updating the original piece by Nijinsky. He's joined by Sarah Cordia, Julia Eisen, Mollie Sansone and Daniella Zlatarev (beautifully elegant in Allison L. Cain's white chemises) to relate the tale of a faun caught up in a doomed romantic encounter with four nymphs in a coming-of-age tale that is danced to near perfection.

BWW Review: Vasterling's DRACULA From Nashville Ballet
Keenan McLaren Hartman in Salvatore Aiello's Satto
- photo by Karyn Photography

Aiello's Satto is described as "an adaptation of an Asian legend about an encounter between a wind god and a leaf," the very emotion of such an encounter is felt throughout the beautiful, lyrical and sensual piece, danced with tantalizing beauty by Jon Upleger and Keenan McLaren Hartman.

Staged by ballet master Timothy Rinehart Yeager, Satto is performed to the music of Chip Davis and Katutoshi Nagasawa, which sets the tone for the piece, while the visual design of Satto adds to its overall effect, particularly the costumes designed by Evelyn Miller and the stunning original lighting design of Randall Harrison and recreated by Nashville's own lighting artist Scott Leathers.

As in the last Nashville Ballet mounting of Satto, Upleger's athletic grace and expressive power, as the god of wind, helps to elevates the piece to inspired heights, particularly in his skillful partnering of Keenan McLaren Hartman, as the beautifully undulating leaf.

Mollie Sansone, who was paired with Upleger in 2011, dances the piece with Brett Sjoblom for opening night and Saturday performances.

  • Dracula. Choreographed by Paul Vasterling. Fall Contemporary Series (including Salvatore Aiello's Afternoon of a Faun and Satto). Presented by Nashville Ballet, at the James K. Polk Theatre at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Nashville. Through Saturday, October 24. For details, go to; for tickets, call (615) 782-4040.

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From This Author Jeffrey Ellis

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