Kansas City Ballet casts a spell with its macabre, menacing ‘Dracula’

02/22/2014 7:31 AM

02/23/2014 8:46 PM

Is power seductive or is seduction power? The Kansas City Ballet’s company premiere of “Dracula” suggested both in a sensual retelling of Bram Stoker’s famously macabre story, performed Friday at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

Choreographer Michael Pink’s version focused on Dracula’s influence, his power over those weaker and the terror of the unexplainable.

Philip Feeney’s original score was a marvel of crushing rhythms and spine-tingling sound effects, performed with intensity by the Kansas City Symphony. The music was so integral to the success of the production that music director Ramona Pansegrau received a huge round of applause even before Act 3 began.

Screams, clicks and thumps melded with harshly trembling violin lines, beautifully sweeping melodies transitioned into ominous themes, and sophisticated waltzes gave way to a sinister music box timbre. Sound effects ranged from penetrating knocking to bat-like keening, clamoring bells and disarming glass tinkling. Nuanced solo work, brimming with dread and intrigue, accompanied characters at core moments.

Anthony Kruztkamp performed the title role on opening night. His movement was muscular and smooth, yet unyielding, with absolute control over victims both willing and hesitant. This intimate partnering was the work’s most powerful aspect.

His first victim was Jonathan Harker, performed breathlessly by Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye in a nightmarish prologue, then later in an involuntary, yet carnal, duet as Dracula held his throat or tossed and lifted him effortlessly.

Laura Hunt was the flighty, flirtatious Lucy, whose transformation to rapacious undead was wild and impressive. Ian Poulis performed a crazed and pathetic Renfield.

Molly Wagner danced the compassionate and stately Mina. She struggled against Dracula’s overwhelming force, becoming his prize — and downfall.

Pink placed plot over pure dance but offered enticing moments of fine ensemble work, especially the peasants’ whirling circle dance of stomps and spins or the writhing undead in blood-smeared chaos. At times, though, the background acting distracted from the primary characters, especially in Act 2.

Lush, detailed costumes and a multilayered set of crumbling castle walls and studded metal reinforced the gothic allure.

Lighting, designed by David Grill, was essential, with spotlights piercing the shrouded haze and well-timed dramatic entrances (though less effective exits).

It proved impossible to include every psychological detail of the novel, to the detriment of some plot points. Mina’s character, unfortunately, was reduced to a semi-willing victim, a pawn, not the resolute heroine of the original story.

Still, the ballet achieved the work’s essence in this gruesome, yet refined production.

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