The blood-sucking vampire is about to stalk the West Australian Ballet’s stage again. Karen van Ulzen talks to the ballet's creator.
Krzysztof Pastor is a successful and prolific choreographer. Not a year has gone by since his debut as a choreographer in 1992, at Dutch National Ballet, when he hasn’t brought at least one new creation into life. Most of his career has been in Europe, but, in the way of the cosmopolitan world of ballet, he already had some connections with the West Australian Ballet (WAB) before this current commission of Dracula. A long time ago, Pastor visited Perth at the invitation of Barry Moreland, a former artistic director of the company.
“I was in New Zealand to stage my Firebird,” Pastor recounts with some amusement. “Barry was interested in staging it. He arranged for me to come to see the company but when I got there there was nothing to see! There was no training, no class. I had a lovely weekend, and returned to Europe, but nothing was mentioned, it was very vague. Then I read later that he was not the director anymore. He must have known already when I was there but didn't tell me!”
Pastor was born in Poland, at a time when the country was under the heel of the former Soviet Union. He was a first soloist at the Teatr Wielki, Poland’s second largest opera house. In 1982, the Polish government subjected the population to a brutal military crackdown. Pastor escaped, and stayed away from his homeland for 26 years. He spent most of his career based at the Dutch National Ballet, where he was resident choreographer from 2003. He was lured back to his homeland when he was made an offer to direct the ballet company. He has been there ever since, having modernised the old fashioned theatre structure and renamed the company as the Polish National Ballet. He is now a proud advocate for the company’s achievements.
Since 2011, he has also been the artistic director of the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre. He has only just stepped aside from both his roles in Holland and Lithuania to focus on the PNB, finding himself too stretched serving three organisations at once.
Like Pastor, Aurelien Scannella, the current artistic director of the WAB, also spent most of his career in Europe. However, although he was an admirer of Pastor’s, the two had never met. “I had always dreamed of working with Krzysztof,” Scannella says, “however our paths never crossed. But because life is full of surprises, my dream unexpectedly came true here in Perth in 2018 thanks to West Australian Ballet!”
“It was Aurelien who came up with the idea of Dracula,” Pastor says now, in a Zoom interview from Italy. “To be honest, at first I was not too keen. I thought it was too commercial. In Holland we were avoiding these commercial titles. But I think now that this is my mistake - in the past I was maybe too rigid, too orthodox, with my approach to subject matter.”
His began “digging around” for music and discovered that the score for the film of Dracula was by a Polish composer he admired, Wojciech Kilar. Inspired, he sank his teeth into the project. He simplified Bram Stoker’s complicated gothic horror tale with the help of Polish dramaturge Pawel Chynowski.
In Pastor's ballet, the bloodthirsty Count Dracula is performed by two dancers in a dual role. “I have the young Dracula and the old Dracula. Young Dracula is not yet contaminated by anger and hatred. His alter ego is the Old Dracula, who became who he is because he lost the person he loved and turned against the church because they wouldn’t to bury her. He turned against the order, the civilisation.”
Dracula premiered in 2018 at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth, with Scannella himself dancing the role of the monstrous Old Dracula. Such was the ballet’s popularity that it is being revived again this year. A co-production with the Queensland Ballet, it is also scheduled to be performed in Brisbane next year. It is already in demand by other companies, according to Pastor – and he is keen to stage it for his own troupe, though it will have to be enlarged considerably to suit the 90-strong company.
Pastor came to Perth in spring in 2018 to create the work and again in autumn for the premiere. Unlike his first experience, this time the company was in full swing. “It was very inspiring, I liked the company very much,” he enthuses. “They were very dedicated, very professional. For me the creative process is not always fun, but this time It was a great pleasure, I must say. The dancers were very cooperative – it was a very helpful, friendly company.”
Dracula will be performed from September 11 to 26. Go here for details.