WA Ballet’s Blood Thirsty Triumph in Dracula’s Return
Crown Theatre, Perth, Thursday August 19
reviewed by Courtney Allen
Just one year after a COVID-restricted 2020 season of Dracula at His Majesty’s Theatre following a 2018 debut, the West Australian Ballet company’s gothic tour de force is back with bloodthirsty delight for a third time, now to an audience of over 2000 at Crown Theatre.
With the majority of the eastern seaboard in lockdown, Western Australian audiences are aware of the deep privilege they have to experience live performance of this scale. A feeling of reverence for the ballet is palpable, as the audience mingle and begin to take their seats. As Wojciech Kilar’s score begins and the curtain lifts, we are galvanised by the opening scenes where a young Elizabeth (Carina Roberts) takes her life by plunging to her death from a castle tower. Her grief-stricken and newly widowed husband Young Count Dracula (Matthew Lehmann) begins his transformation into the spectre that has haunted the world for over a century, since Bram Stoker published his epistolary novel in 1897.
The unsettling musical score is matched by Krzysztof Pastor’s impassioned choreography, under the artistic direction of Aurelien Scanella (also reprising his role as Old Dracula). Their combined artistic vision builds with assuredness throughout the production, fusing neo-classical and contemporary elements, alongside the delicate and spritely classical qualities of the London party scenes.
Demi-soloists Carina Roberts as Mina, and imminently retiring ballerina Melissa McCabe as Lucy, are a triumph as they weave a tragedy of innocence lost. This ballet commands the audience’s vigilant attention to the narrative and its ultimately universal themes of human frailty, fear, attraction and revulsion.
Over 25 wigs and 30 pieces of facial hair have been painstakingly hand-produced for this production, transforming the dancers into vampires, villains, Victorian aristocrats and religious clergy. Lucy’s dazzling red hair, contrasted against her white nightgown creates a haunting image as Melissa McCabe glides effortlessly across the stage in pas de couru.
To complete the picture of gothic misery, the sets and staging are phenomenal. The twisted spiral staircase of the opening scene is later seen from the vantage point within the castle. A large wooden carriage is wheeled across the front of stage, carrying young solicitor Jonathan (Oscar Valdes), and accompanied by fellow travellers including a young mother, her small son and baby. The chaise lounge that marks the relative innocence of the scenes of London civilisation occupies the same part of stage as the enormous red velvet throne of the embittered Old Dracula in his Transylvanian castle. The dual portraits of Elizabeth and Mina cast an omen over both localities, signalling the imprisoned life of a muse.
Dracula has its seductive moments too. The lubricious dinner party at Dracula’s castle is an ordinary dinner party on steroids, teeming with vampires. The unholy trinity of vampire brides that pin the artless Jonathan to a bed have entered via a curtained window, a nod to the paranormal feminine. He’s trapped under their weight as they taunt him, in a passionate embrace.
This ballet gleefully dances the line between several dichotomies: the traditional and the contemporary; Gothic romance and Victorian anxieties; the ephemeral and the eternal. Renfield’s tortured solo (performed by Jesse Homes) in the padded walls of the asylum is arresting. His jolting movements and limitless stamina offer a panicked warning to Mina. Will she listen?
West Australian Ballet’s Dracula is unapologetically theatrical and the mark of a company in the throes of artistic excellence. It seems inconceivable that the rehearsal period for this season was only three short weeks. The technique of the company’s dancers is polished and finessed, allowing their artistry to tell the story.
When speaking of her time in the company, soon to be retired Melissa McCabe articulates that this has been the job of her dreams, surrounded by colleagues who have “become family.” In an industry that can be burdened by injuries and a succession of rejections, Melissa has paved the way for young dancers with her remarkable talent, artistry and sheer love of dance. She will never be a stranger to WA Ballet or to the ballet scene, however she will be sorely missed on WA’s stages. Bravo!
West Australian Ballet’s 2021 season of Dracula plays until August 24. See it so that you too can feel the cold embrace of fear.