DRACULA: THE DANCE-DRAMA
By: Hal de Becker
Choreographer Kelly Roth, Director of Dance at CSN, has provided audiences with a number of excellent dance-dramas based on historical, real-world figures including St. Joan, Princess Diana and Napoleon.
For his latest he turned to a fictional and unworldly figure based on the classic tale by Bram Stoker, Dracula. It was the major presentation in a recent program of dance works at Nicholas Horn Theatre and may have been Roth’s best work to date in this particular genre.
For this production he had some especially outstanding forces at his disposal.
The dancers, mostly CSN students, combined high caliber dance and acting skills together with surprising theatrical maturity. There was nothing sophomoric about their performances.
Cynthia DeFault’s costumes for the late 19th century London setting were period-perfect. She wisely avoided excessive grotesquerie, and the juxtaposition of mostly ‘normal’ attire with the macabre situations added to the work’s terrifying aspect.
The quality of the venue’s stage lighting went beyond what I’d seen there on previous occasions. It was designed by Roth, and his use of dark shades of blue and red intensified the atmosphere of mystery and terror.
Special effects such as the transformation of Count Dracula into a gold skeleton inside a coffin were credited to Phil Turco and Stephen Mathews.
Of all the exceptional assets enhancing the production its greatest treasure, aside from the choreography, was the music: Alfred Schnittke’s Viola Concerto. It was performed live-on-stage by violist Tobias Kremer Roth, sans score no less, and pianist Voltaire Verzosa.
They gave an incredible performance of an incredibly difficult composition. Their playing was of the highest order and would have graced the stage of any concert hall.
The music was not just accompaniment nor did the choreography just follow specific rhythms or melodies. It seemed to unfold to the overall flow of the score and the violist focused on it as he might have on a conductor’s baton. Both elements were equals and a source of inspiration to each other.
The choreography’s unrushed pacing heightened the tension as the story progressed through all its phases: the orgiastic blood feasting by Dracula’s three vampire brides; Renfield’s hallucinations in the asylum and his appetite for insects; the beautiful Lucy and Mina falling victim to the Count’s evil powers; Dr. Van Helsing’s attempts to save them and his eventual triumph over Dracula.
Chris Leggett was persuasive in the title role. Danny Mendoza, an outstanding dancer-actor, made a horrific and yet pitiable Renfield. With Lucy and Mina portrayed by Carrie Miles and DuFault respectively, Count Dracula’s attraction to them was understandable.
Even as vampires, Jada McCloud, Ambre Daudet and Rosie Gonzalez were dangerously appealing. Roth (the choreographer, not his son the violist) brought authority to the role of the good doctor.
Also noteworthy were Cameron Hyman Arbria Owens, Candice Wynants, Holly Dickinson, Ema Taylor, Coy Shinn, Kendela Cress, Mr Turco and Kyan DuFault. Others deserving mention include Azalya Clayton, Shameika Daniels, Zhanna Korolkova, Lynette Colon, Ashley Walker and Tina Wilocks.
The program had a strong opening with two rousing Middle Eastern numbers possessing all the traditional undulating, quivering, accented moves. The 14 ladies were led by the choreographer, the lithe and lovely Angela Palmeri-Davis. Ms. Davis is considered by many to be Las Vegas’s queen of Arabic dance.
Carrie Miles and Alicia Trump made a strong impression as joint choreographers/dancers in a tender and artistically crafted duet, Not Alone. Their solid ballet and contemporary training, particularly that of Miles, shone throughout the sensitive piece.
The moving, tragi-lyrical Eye of the Storm, choreographed by Mendoza in reaction to a woman’s recent suicide from a freeway bridge, was well-received. Although not always in sync with each other the dancers, Wynants, Leggett and especially DuFault and Mendoza, gave good performances.
Projections of sky scene photos taken by dancer/choreographer Leslie Kremer Roth made striking backdrops for her five-dancer piece, Skies From Los Feliz. The work’s final tableau captured the essence of the pictured sunset under golden clouds.
In Some Say, a dance work incorporating ‘’everyday gestures…sound, video” and more; and purporting to channel ‘’futurism, space travel, extraterrestrial undertones” and more; and a “…choreographic movement quality…exploring rotation, stretch, flexion” and more; DuFault created a piece that could have been confusing and it was.
But it was also visually compelling, entertaining, inventively choreographed and well danced by its 23 artists, especially DuFault, Mendoza and Miles and equally so by some others.
To enjoy the sight of a skyscraper or Gothic cathedral one doesn’t have to understand every intention and meaning behind its construction. Sometimes it’s the same with a choreographer’s creation. What was ‘Some Say’ all about? I don’t know. But I enjoyed it.
At times, the projections, whether city streets or abstracts, overwhelmed the stage action but at other times complimented it. Sometimes the stage lighting obscured, sometimes it clarified. The opening segment with a dancer trapped in a small circle of light screaming and trying to pound and claw his way out was a powerful statement about the lives of many in the 21st century.
Was ‘Some Say’ an accessible, artistically finished product? Probably not. But as an intriguing experimental work I’m glad I saw it and look forward to seeing more from this talented artist.