BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN: WEDDING BELLS OUT OF TUNE
By: Hal de Becker
Kelly Roth’s premiere of his dance-drama ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ was the title of College of Southern Nevada’s Spring Dance Concert at Nicholas Horn Theatre. It was based on the Mary Shelley novel and the 1935 Hollywood film and was intended to be the concert’s principle offering.
However, it shared the program with another Roth premiere, ‘A Trimbling’, that with captivating, well-constructed choreography was the more satisfying piece.
In ‘A Trimbling’ as with last season’s ‘Sanitas’ Roth again created a stunning and delightfully original movement style. It was a fulfilling realization of the music and one of his finest works of pure dance to date.
It was set to Prokofiev’s String Quartet # 1 opus 50, composed in 1930 during the worldwide depression. It was also the period of the Soviet Union’s rigorous control of the arts, and the reign of its feared secret police the OGPU a predecessor of the KGB.
The music is beautiful but has a dark side that reflects the conditions of the times. Along with high spirited themes it possesses ominous undercurrents and at times even a sense of doom. Roth’s choreography captured those nuances.
The opening scene was illuminated in pale blue. Four musicians (yes, live music!) were placed towards the rear of the stage. In front of them were seven dancers in colorful Russian style peasant costumes.
The choreography was not folkloric but did have occasional references to such moves, including hands on hips, flexed feet, heels extended on the floor. To some extent it was crafted to the talents of the student dancers, but it also posed ongoing challenges designed to stimulate their artistic and technical development.
As the lighting changed to blood red, Roth and Jennifer Roberts infiltrated the festive gathering and performed solos and duets often having sinister overtones. The symbolism of their emblematic black suits was obvious.
Outstanding dancing was provided by Roberts, Kaylee Hannig, Carrie Miles, Makena Kimani, Ariadna Ramirez, Christopher Leggett, Danny Mendoza and Mr. Roth.
The score received a splendid performance from the UNLV Graduate String Quartet consisting of Dmytro Nehrych, Yestyn Griffith, Adam Stiber and Tobias Roth. The youthful group is concert hall-ready and seems destined for success and critical acclaim.
‘The Bride’ was a good student exercise in portraying roles, sustaining a specific style and mood, carrying out complicated staging, reacting dramatically to each other and to the music and more. The talented cast clearly benefited from the experience.
However, unlike Roth’s other dance-dramas and despite two pages and 19 paragraphs of detailed program notes, all of which needed to be memorized on the spot in order to be of help, ‘The Bride’ was a confusing jumble of characters, twists and turns, deaths and re-births, fragmentary scene snippets, action without continuity and too long.
There were several instances in which the work appeared to end at a propitious place and then, as if an after-thought, something else would be tagged on.
The dance-drama was not intended to be a spoof yet at one point the Monster executed a jolly dance reminiscent of a similar scene in the Mel Brooks’ film, Son of Frankenstein.
So, instead of trying to conjure up some clarity, I found it best to just sit back and enjoy some of the good dance sequences, special effects and the interesting horrific atmosphere.
Roth portrayed Dr. Victor Frankenstein, creator and to some extent ‘father’ of the monstrous prodigal son. Christopher Leggett as the Monster avoided the clichéd stiff legged striding and by making the creature more human aroused sympathy for him.
Hannig danced the role of the innocent but ill-fated Fatima who succumbs to heart failure. Later, after learning the Monster had taken a fancy to her, Dr. Frankenstein placates him by proceeding to revive her so as to transform her into a monster-bride.
Through the efforts of Igor, the Doctor’s mentally and physically deformed assistant, a fresh human heart is acquired for her and successfully implanted. To re-charge it by lightning she (brave dancer!) was then hoisted about 40 feet above the stage.
The Doctor’s wife, Elizabeth, was danced by Miles. Their tender duet was particularly inventive because he was confined to a wheel chair.
Francisca Beaudoux as Ute the ubiquitous housekeeper and Mendoza as Igor were energetic and persuasive.
At the end of one sequence, Igor appeared to have a go at necrophilia with the dead Monster. The Monster himself seemed to have tried the same thing with Fatima after her heart attack before being chased away by Ute.
Ricky Espinoza’s acting and clear mime as the blind Monk who befriends the Monster was exceptionally convincing. Later, he led a funeral cortege on stage having apparently regained his eyesight.
Whether cavorting as villagers or as a mob violently pursuing the Monster the group dancers acquitted themselves well. They were especially effective in a slow-motion, dreamlike dance in which they gave the illusion of floating in space.
The original music was composed by Thor Ellyk and recorded by the Ozlo New Music Ensemble of Norway. Sound effects of groans, screams and in the opening scene a heartbeat were innovative elements of the compelling score.
Cynthia DuFault’s costuming for both works was good, especially the typical Bavarian ones in ‘Bride’: ladies wearing short skirts and blouses, men short pants and suspenders.
Sets for ‘Bride’ were credited to Ben Dyer, Phil Turco and Roth. Most noteworthy were the forest of tall trees in silhouette and Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. Creative lighting by Roth and Robert VanAcker also enhanced the program’s visual impact.
Horn Theatre’s tech crew deserves kudos for the smooth progress of the complicated production.
And what’s next for Mr. Roth?
To paraphrase the poet Percy Shelley: “If Frankenstein comes, can Wolfman be far behind?”