Blood, Fangs, and Death . . . No Tutus: California Ballet’s Dracula

California Ballet Company will present its full-length Dracula at the San Diego Civic Theatre on October 27 and 28, 2012. We hope you'll join us for an evening of blood, fangs, and death, but no tutus! This is no ballet - it's a dance-drama that is quite unlike anything you've seen before. To whet your appetite, we're going to talk a little bit about the story and history of Bram Stoker's Dracula, and follow up with a teaser-trailer of our ballet. So sit back, relax, and find out what this gory, vampire-ridden tale is really all about!

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The mythos of the vampire has been around for countless centuries, in countless cultures, in countless forms. From creatures who drink blood, to demons from hell, the vampire has held a place in human superstitions and mythology across the world. Most people associate the vampire with Romania - specifically Transylvania - and this is largely due to Bram Stoker's famous Gothic novel, Dracula.

Bram Stoker (1847-1912) may have reached great fame as the author of the quintessential vampire novel, but he was a prolific writer who made most of his living as the business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, England. Stoker was on the writing staff for the London Daily Telegraph, and his literary works range from horror, to fiction, to non-fiction. Stoker lived and worked during the Victorian Era. During this time you have other such writers as H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He was in rarified air, indeed! His particular work, however, would brand him as a horror writer, and land him in the same category as Mary Shelley (of Frankenstein fame.)

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Bram Stoker c. 1906

Stoker's lasting legacy is the horror masterpiece Dracula. Stoker spent seven years researching European folklore and existing vampire stories before beginning work on his masterpiece. Yes, that's right, Stoker was not the first to write horror fiction about vampires. He is, however, the most memorable and influential. Dracula would not be published until 1897 - a mere fifteen years before his death - but once published, it would never again leave publication. There has been some form of the vampire masterpiece on bookstore shelves since its original publication in 1897! It has informed and influenced Western interpretation of the vampire mythos for 115 years, until the name Dracula and the concept of vampires are inextricably intertwined.

But, what about the story?

Most people know the story of the young Englishman, Jonathan Harker, who travels to Transylvania to attend an eccentric Slavic man and assist in his moving to England. Most people know about the crazy Renfield, Count Dracula's loyal hound. Most people have heard of Professor Abraham Van Helsing, who hunts down and kills the evil vampire. But, how many of you have actually read the original novel? Each adaptation has taken elements from the original story, and changed them around. While the heart of the story remains the same from iteration to iteration, very few have ever retold the story as Stoker envisioned it.

If you haven't read it, do so now! You can download it for free for Kindle at Amazon.com by CLICKING HERE.

The story follows a group of English men and women as Count Dracula wreaks havoc on their lives. The story begins in Transylvania - a region in Romania - where Jonathan Harker, essentially a real estate agent, is meeting with an eccentric old man in a dilapidated castle to finalize the old man's purchase and transit to Carfax - the Count's new property  in Purfleet, England. While in Translvania, Jonathan begins to experience wildly strange occurrences, including a trio of vampiric women who seem to want to suck his blood. He discovers that he is a prisoner in Dracula's castle, and becomes overcome with the need to escape - which he eventually does.

Purfleet

Engraving of Purfleet, England - 10 miles outside of London

As a side note, the original name for Count Dracula was going to be Count Wampire. After researching Romanian history, Stoker discovered the tales of Vlad II and Vlad III, both rulers of Wallachia - a region near Transylvania. Vlad II was inducted into a society - the Order of the Dragon - for deeds of bravery. As part of his induction, he assumed the name of Dracul (meaning "dragon"). But, it isn't Vlad II that became a basis for the Count. It was his son, Vlad III - also known as Vlad the Impaler. The younger Vlad was said to have defended his home of Wallachia against invading Turks - having killed over 100,000 people himself. His favorite means of torturing and killing his enemies was to impale them on huge wooden spikes - thus his oh, so lovely name. Vlad III's history is said to serve as a basis for Count Dracula. In fact, Dracula means, "The Son of Dracul." Of course, modern translation of Dracul  can also be "the devil" so there's a double meaning involved.

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Vlad the Impaler (Vlad III)

But, back to the story. Dracula makes his way to England where he begins to make himself at home by feeding upon a local aristocrat's blood, Lucy Westerna. Now, anyone that's seen California Ballet's Dracula will notice right away a big difference here. In our version, Lucy's last name is Van Helsing. She's the daughter of the famed vampire hunter! This is just one of many artistic licenses that have been taken with the novel over the century since its publication. Many versions have simplified characters and their relationships to make the story easier to portray and follow on both the stage and the big screen. Changing Lucy's lineage is just one example.

In time, Lucy dies of blood loss (hmmm, wonder where her blood went) and becomes a vampire herself - the first of many planned for the Count. Professor Abraham Van Helsing is called upon to hunt down Lucy and put her to rest. He is joined by three of Lucy's suitors: John Seward, Quincy Morris, and Arthur Holmwood. Arthur, who wins Lucy's hand before she is turned into a vampire, is the one to put a stake through her heart.

With Lucy out of the picture, Dracula starts to feed on Mina Harker - Lucy's best friend and newly married to Dracula's real estate agent, Jonathan. The bond created between the Count and Mina is used by Van Helsing to track down the vampire to his English lair. Accompanied by Jonathan and the three suitors, Van Helsing sanctifies the land - forcing Dracula to return to his home in Transylvania. Van Helsing and the three suitors follow the vampire to Eastern Europe for a final confrontation, which ends in the slaying of the Count and saving Mina from becoming a vampire herself.

Now, this is just a basic synopsis of the story, but it covers all the details that you are likely to see in any film or stage rendition of the novel. But, as with any classic, nothing will ever match the novel. Seriously, read the book.

`nosferatu poster

Over the years, Dracula has seen countless interpretations. The first stage version was penned by Stoker himself, and performed at the Lyceum Theatre in London. It was only performed once, just before the publication of his book. The next major rendition would be the German silent film Nosferatu in 1922. This movie was created without the proper rights, so many of the details were changed -such as the title and the name of the Count. Nonetheless, it is Dracula.

The most famous iteration is the 1933 film of Dracula starring the unforgettable Bela Lugosi. When most of you picture a vampire or Dracula in your minds, it is probably Lugosi's interpretation you383567 f260 see with slender pointed teeth, a widow's peak, and a horrendous Slavic accent saying, "I vant to suck you blood!" Still, this Universal Studios classic has defined our vision of Stoker's vampires for almost 80 years! It was this movie that propelled the story into worldwide fame - something for which Hollywood is famous.

The most recent film version of Dracula was the 1992 Bram Stoker's Dracula starring Keanu Reeves, Winona Rider, and Sir Anthony Hopkins. While the acting ability of some of the stars may be called into question, there is no doubt that this is the closest rendition to the original text available in film version. Journal entries are recited in voice-overs, you see all three of Lucy's suitors, the original character names are intact, and you even get a bit of the muddied history that flavored Stoker's novel. If you can't read the book (we cannot iterate enough how much you should), then this is the movie to see.

So, by now you may be thinking, "How can you make a ballet out of this story?" Let's be honest, as we said at the very beginning of this post, Charles Bennett's Dracula is not a ballet. It is a dance drama that happens to have some balletic pointe work and acting set to music. If you aren't a ballet fan, this is the place to start. While there are now several different versions of the Dracula ballet, the first was created in San Diego for the California Ballet Company in 1987. Many other companies have their own versions of the ballet - each with their own scores and interpretations. Ours was the vision of Charles Bennett, who also created California Ballet's Alice in Wonderland, Romeo and Juliet, and Snow White.

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When turning Dracula into a dance-narrative, Mr. Bennet was faced with the challenge of representing a very rich story, known and loved the world over, in just two hours of dance and pantomime. Not an easy task! Mr. Bennett decided to stand on the shoulders of giants and pull inspiration from the silent movie era - using vignettes, dissolving smoothly from one scene into another without interruption, and tailoring music to move the story forward. The result is a dance-drama that feels like cinema come to life. Some characters were cut from the story, while others were changed to make for easier story-telling. For example, Lucy has no suitors at all in the CBC version, and Mr. Bennett pulled inspiration from the Universal Studios version by making Mina Dr. Seward's daughter. Yet, even with the changes made and the lack of spoken word, Charles Bennett's Dracula masterfully propels Bram Stoker's story through to its conclusion of good triumphing over evil.

The story and the history of Bram Stoker's Dracula are both rich and vibrant. It would be impossible to regale you with every fact and facet without creating a blog post that is impossibly long. But, if you're looking for a great horror story for the Halloween season that has filled our hearts, minds, and imaginations for over 100 years, this is the story to do it!

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Be sure to join California Ballet Company at the Civic Theatre on October 27 and 28, 2012 for an evening of blood, fangs, and death . . . but no tutus!

For tickets and information CLICK HERE!

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One Response to “Blood, Fangs, and Death . . . No Tutus: California Ballet’s Dracula”

  1. arnelnacino Says:

    I think it was George Balanchine who said, “In ballet, there are no mothers-in-law”. How right he was, there’s just no way to convey that relationship through gesture alone. When a choreographer creates a ballet “based on” a novel, for the purposes of clearly and effectively telling a story through dance and gesture, he should be given a generous amount of artistic license to create the dance-story he wants.

    I also agree that anybody who watches or performs in “Dracula”should read the original Bram Stoker novel. It will only add to the experience.

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