Ben Stevenson’s Dracula, the million-dollar production that ushered in Terrence Orr’s tenure as Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director 20 years ago, returns to the Benedum Center on Halloween weekend to open the company’s 48th season.
The two-hour-and-45-minute neo-Romantic ballet in three acts is loosely based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic horror novel of the same name. Set in 19th-century Transylvania, it tells the story of the lustful and bloodthirsty count with an insatiable appetite for the young women of a nearby village.
Stevenson took some liberties with Stoker’s storyline to make the ballet easier to follow, says Li Anlin, répétiteur for this PBT co-production with Houston Ballet. “He also changed some of the main characters’ names to make them more interesting,” says Anlin, speaking by phone from PBT’s studios, where he is restaging the work. So instead of Mina and Lucy, as in many productions, we have Flora and Svetlana.
In Act I, Dracula, tired of the 18 vampire brides he already has, dispatches his mad, insect-eating henchman, Renfield, to fetch Flora, another young maiden in the village. And when he quickly grows tired of her, he abducts Svetlana during her 18th-birthday celebration in the village. Svetlana’s fiancé, Frederick, then mounts a rescue operation that ultimately leads to Dracula’s demise.
Dracula was most recently staged by PBT in 2011. Anlin, a cast member in the ballet’s original 1997 production, at Houston Ballet, is now an assistant artistic director under Stevenson at Texas Ballet Theater. Anlin says this production gets a bit of an update, with increased difficulty and excitement in the choreography for the main characters.
Danced to a dramatic score by Franz Liszt, the lush stage production features a large cast of more than 50 dancers, period sets by Thomas Boyd, and Hollywood movie-inspired costumes by Judanna Lynn. The pyrotechnics, lighting and visual effects include a flying Dracula and vampire brides, and an exploding chandelier.
And while after two decades Dracula may be getting a bit long in the tooth compared to newer multimedia productions, it’s a show that still has plenty of bite left to give audiences this Halloween weekend a rush of supernatural chills and theatrical thrills.