by Brian Clarey
Among the performing arts, dance may be the least reliant upon the accouterments of theater. Lighting and sound, of course, play a big part of every live performance. But in dance, scenery and costume mean little alongside the power and grace of the dancers themselves. A lone ballerina under a single spot can say more in a few well-choreographed steps than an entire cast in period dress.
So it wasn’t a big deal when Greensboro Ballet staged its Halloween weekend performance of Dracula in its basement rehearsal space at the Greensboro Cultural Arts Center.
A proscenium was made by a black curtain and elevated stage in a corner of the room; risers accommodated a hundred or so seats at the opposite right angle. The dance space stretched almost from one corner to the other. Lighting cast long shadows of the dancers in the upper reaches of the walls.
Greensboro Ballet’s circumstances will soon change — dance aficionado Jan Van Dyke recently donated $1 million to ArtsGreensboro for a new performance space at the cultural center from which the nonprofit will benefit.
But for Dracula, a story of seduction, death and revenge, the minimalist approach worked.
This version of the vampire story leans heavily on Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 blood-soaked film, choreographed in 2001 by Greensboro Ballet alum and UNC School of the Arts grad Robert Royce, who now is among the faculty at Vermont’s Brattleboro School of Dance. Joining him as Lucy’s other suitor is professional dancer Kevin Arredondo of the Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet.
Royce took a turn in this performance as a minor character, a young suitor to Lucy, who is a friend to Mina, fiancé of Jonathan Harker, the vampire hunter.
Count Dracula, played with simmering malevolence by Brian Murphy, also has his eye on Lucy, danced lyrically by Nina Munda. He steals into her London bedroom and seduces her with dance conveying the beautiful agony of the ritual.
Murphy, a professional dancer with Cleveland’s Verb Ballet, executes lifts and carries with Lucy, played by Greensboro Ballet dancer Nina Munda, in a crescendo of leaps and lifts, then makes her one of his own with a bite to end the first act.
After Harker, played by Greensboro Ballet regular Spencer M. Lee, escapes the Transylvania mansion of Count Dracula, he reunites with Mina, portrayed by Jesse Tidquist on loan from the Charleston Ballet, in a conciliatory piece. Then he and the suitors find Lucy in a coffin at the castle and stake her through the heart.
Meanwhile, Mina falls under the vampire’s spell in a duet that conveys the love — indeed, lust — they feel for each other and Dracula’s reticence to make her one of his wives.
It is that connection that brings tension to the moment when Mina must end the vampire’s life by her own hands.
It’s always remarkable to see a complex story like this one conveyed solely through movement. But even more remarkable in this performance was its connection to the mission of Greensboro Ballet. Besides the professional dancers in town for the event, college and high school students filled out the cast as Dracula’s wives or terrified villagers. A final scene incorporated every dancer in the show, a fitting climax for such a grisly end. Fitting, too for the city’s ballet company.