His Majesty's Theatre
11 September 2020
After this draining year, who knew a tale of horror and heartbreak could be so uplifting. Dracula, the West Australian Ballet’s first major production since lockdown, elegantly depicts the narrative of Bram Stoker’s gothic novel over ten scenes (divided into two acts and a prologue). Set in the 1800s, the story follows Count Dracula’s fascination with his lawyer’s fiancée, Mina, after losing his beloved wife, Elizabeth, to suicide.
Many of the dancers who appeared in Dracula’s 2018 debut have returned to their original role, including the WA Ballet’s artistic director, Aurélien Scannella. Further, the great Krzysztof Pastor has returned to deliver choreography that is clever, varied and entrancing.
In Dracula, Pastor has taken a step beyond traditional neoclassical ballet to include elements of contemporary dance, particularly in scenes involving the vampires or asylum patients. Punchy, staccato movement encompassed these darker scenes, which was a stark contrast to the elaborate ballroom waltzes and romantic pas de deux. This stylistic range offered the audience a depth of performance that was engaging at all times.
To express Dracula’s struggle, two dancers play the role of Count Dracula: Aurélien Scannella as the evil Old Dracula and Matthew Lehmann as the sensitive Young Dracula. The transitions between Old and Young Dracula were seamless, enhancing the character’s supernatural flair. Both Scannella and Lehmann brought passion and power to their role, but in very different ways. Scannella’s seasoned stage presence established a demonising figure, whereas Lehmann brought a likability to Dracula that was charming and unexpected. The highlight of Lehmann’s performance was his tango with Oscar Valdes (as Dracula’s lawyer, Jonathan Harker). This pas de deux, peppered with humour, gave both Lehmann and Valdes the opportunity to showcase their strength and personality.
Carina Roberts, as Dracula’s love interest, Elizabeth/Mina, embodied all the beauty and elegance of classical ballet that we love. Further, Matthew Edwardson and Oliver Edwardson displayed such impeccable synchronicity as the Phantoms, it was unsurprising to later discover that these dancers are indeed identical twins. However, the true scene-stealer of the night was Chihiro Nomura as Mina’s best friend, Lucy Westenra. Nomura first appears as the focal point of a large group waltz, boasting long lines and poised extensions. Here, her effortless charisma and control won the audience over instantly. After transforming into a vampire in the second act, Nomura’s erratic and ghostlike courus across the stage gave the audience an eerie and unnerving experience. Nomura was captivating at every twist and turn, making it impossible to take your eyes off her.
Overall, the dancers were polished and together, save for a few moments in the first act. However, these moments were minor and passed by relatively undetected by the audience.
Wojciech Kilar's music (originally composed for the film of Dracula), was arranged by Michael Brett and Joshua Davies and created an air of ominous intensity throughout the production. Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith’s sets were impressively intricate and sophisticated, and their costumes were beautifully reflective of the 1800s. Of particular note was Dracula’s floor length, fur trimmed coat which both Scannella and Lehmann swept and tossed throughout their performances.
Despite the reduced capacity due to phase four restrictions, both the audience and dancers alike were electric with the return of live theatre. A generous applause was offered throughout the show, an offering entirely reflective of this outstanding production. The successful return of Dracula should cement its position as a true asset of the WA Ballet.
Dracula is next scheduled to be performed by the Queensland Ballet in 2021.
– ALANA KILDEA