There won’t be any lolling around onstage during Texas Ballet Theater’s Dracula this weekend — but not necessarily for the scary reason you might think of first when in the presence of a blood-sucking vampire.
For artistic reasons.
Observers of TBT artistic director Ben Stevenson’s story ballets often note that this choreographer keeps the movement going — even in crowd scenes when the dancers are “standing there,” not doing anything.
And with Dracula, which TBT opens for the third time at Bass Hall since Stevenson has been on board, that creates some special challenges.
“One of the best things about Ben’s story ballets [is that] he never wants there to be a break in the action to change the set,” says production manager George Cripps. “So he choreographs it through-play, as in it’s through-danced, just like some musicals are through-sung, so the audience is never sitting there in the dark while we [change scenery].”
The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra will provide live accompaniment for each performance.
In Dracula, that means that the 16 painted backdrops, including legs and borders, are constantly flying in and out, with the performers doing something more downstage so that there’s no break for the audience to wait for scene changes — except for during the two intermissions, of course.
In the second act, which goes from a forest with dark grays and blacks and moss on the trees to blue skies with water and the Romanian village, and then back to the gloom and doom of Dracula’s castle, these seamless transitions are especially impressive. “When we’re in the room in the castle, it has vestiges of life, because real people once lived in that,” says Cripps.
That’s another place where, if audience members are looking closely, they can spot another spectacle of this production: the details of costuming.
30The weight of Dracula’s cape in pounds
“When you see the brides, each one has a different design, like a different period,” Stevenson says, “because Dracula has been around for a long time and the women would have had changes in their fashion.”
Dracula’s enormous cloak weighs 30 pounds, requiring strength and stamina from the three dancers playing the role this weekend: Alexander Kotelenets (Friday night and Sunday matinee), Carl Coomer (Saturday night and Sunday night) and Paul Adams (Saturday matinee).
Stevenson created his Dracula, based on the Bram Stoker story that began the pop-culture folklore about the world’s most famous vampire, in 1997 when he was at Houston Ballet. The music is from various pieces by Franz Liszt, including La lugubre gondola, Mephisto Waltz and Totentanz (Dance of the Dead). The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra will provide live accompaniment for each performance..
Stevenson met Cripps when working at Ballet Florida in 1995, and when Ballet Florida folded during the recent recession, Stevenson brought his colleague to Texas. Cripps, who is from Wales, has been with TBT for seven years.
In 2012, Stevenson staged his Dracula in Santiago, Chile.
As a child in a small town near Cardiff, Wales, Cripps performed in musical theater and later received a performing arts degree in Chichester, England. He was more interested in the production side, though, and received an internship at the prestigious dance event Jacob’s Pillow in Massachusetts. He ended up staying there for five years (“my mother still refers to it as that time I ran away from home,” he says, laughing).
In 2012, Stevenson staged his Dracula in Santiago, Chile, working from the original scenic and costume designs. Those creations are being used in the current staging, which began this season with two weekends at Dallas’ Winspear Opera House in September.
As TBT has made strides performing more contemporary work and new ballets by up-and-coming and established international choreographers, Stevenson notes that it’s the big, lavish story ballets that the audiences still love most.
“It’s like going to the opera and seeing Aida or Carmen again,” Stevenson says. “You know what it is, but you want to see the spectacle. I want to bring audiences in so they see how great our work is performed and how great it looks, so that they know the product is Texas Ballet Theater, and they want to return every time.”
▪ 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
▪ Bass Hall, Fort Worth
▪ 877-828-9200; http://www.texasballettheater.org