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Kansas City Ballet's 'Dracula' Visits The Dark Side

Many ballets often depend on the concept of tension, whether in the muscles of the dancers or the story itself. That may be even more evident in the Kansas City Ballet's production of Dracula, opening this Friday.

In bringing the iconic character to the stage, the company is venturing to its dark side with a production that is the first in the Ballet's history to come with parental discretion advised. 

Outside the Todd Bolender Center one recent afternoon, the city feels locked in an icebox. But inside, members of the Kansas City Ballet are glistening with perspiration as they're readying the company’s production of Dracula. In a second floor rehearsal space, creator and choreographer Michael Pink is putting dancers through one of the show's lighter moments.

In a bigger studio downstairs, the score is more intense. In front of a gothic-looking spiral staircase and a large bed on a slant, dancers Logan Pachciarz, one of the two Draculas, and Tempe Ostergren are discussing a scene of seduction.

London calling

Michael Pink is currently the artistic director of the Milwaukee Ballet Company. He was working in London when he created this version of Dracula to mark the centenary of the publication of Bram Stoker's book. He says the novel inspired him much more than the campy movie Draculas people are used to.

"People come with the sense that it’s going to be a little bit fun, with fangs and blood, and a little bit like the B movies," Pink says. "I want people to take away from this that it feels utterly real.

"What they experience might be the closest they get to the sense of being really close to a Dracula. This for me is: Can you in the live theater, in that moment of real time, really create the sense of who Dracula is, and create the excitement and fear and anticipation that goes with it? And the short answer is that we have."

Love at first bite

Also dancing the title character is Anthony Krutzkamp, who has his own read on who Dracula is. 

"He's sinister but he's not; he doesn't always want to bite people," Krutzkamp says. "Every time I see a vein, I have to stare at it and want it but at the same time, you don't want to bite until you lose yourself and you have to."

Krutzkamp adds that, early in the rehearsal, finding the character is less important than learning such things as hand grips and his partners' shoulder heights. He gives himself a week to truly find his inner Dracula.

"As of right now, I float in and out of the character because I'm trying to hit that musicality, and eventually that will flow through me," he says. "Once I have the music memorized, per se, I don't think any more. When I'm on stage, there's no thinking - there's just doing."

Silence is golden

Choreographer Michael Pink says the leap from the novel to ballet is an agile, natural one.

"It calls out to be danced because I think fundamentally it is a silent movie," he says. "It’s an adventure story about a race to catch Dracula and dispense with him.

"We can create a sense of energy, identity, movement, (and) pace in silent, non verbal theater. If Dracula could speak, you would be affected by the way he spoke. The fact he doesn’t speak? It’s up to you. That’s why non-verbal theater can be an incredibly powerful theatrical convention, especially when you’re trying to tell these types of stories."

Pink adds that, when Dracula has been performed in other cities, its lead dancer has achieved something like rock star status, complete with fans lined up outside the stage door after the final bows.

The Kansas City Ballet presents 'Dracula,' February 21 - March 2, 2014, at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, 1601 Broadway, Kansas City, Mo. 816-931-2232.

Since 1998, Steve Walker has contributed stories and interviews about theater, visual arts, and music as an arts reporter at KCUR. He's also one of Up to Date's regular trio of critics who discuss the latest in art, independent and documentary films playing on area screens.
Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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