Choreographer Patricia Dickinson Wells holds the rehearsal in her hands loosely, letting the scenes play out with only occasional comments. The room where her most recent production of the ballet Dracula, A Love Story is running through scenes is jammed with dancers ranging in ages from pre-teen well into retirement. It would be a crumpled mess of colliding townspeople, gargoyles and assorted underworld characters if the spurts of frenetic motion that punctuated the scenes were attempted by a group less skilled at gracefully moving through space. Welcome to Transylvania. Things may have changed since you were last here.
Wells seeks to take Dracula in a distinct direction, even within the adaptive scope of other productions of the ballet. It is a big production, with a large cast, innovative dancing and a complex, contemporary view of the Dracul. Weekly Alibi sat down with Wells to talk about vampires, ballet and her take on this classic tale. The following is an edited version of that conversation.
Weekly Alibi: Why do people find vampires so compelling?
Patricia Dickinson Wells: If I only knew. I think the first Dracula was done in London in 1995-ish and then it became all the rage of creative dance companies. I did my first one in 1999 and I've revamped it over the years since then.
What qualities of ballet accentuate this particular story?
I was working with a gentleman who is deceased now. He and I put the concept together. It was kind of like, “Hey, you got any costumes? Let's make a ballet.” He was the first Dracula, then I took it over and started making the storyboard as I saw it because it's such a vast story. For example, some people have the crossing of the ocean and they'll have big ships. That didn't fascinate me at all. I was far more interested in his early years and why he turned on the church. That was because the church wouldn't give his wife last rights. She thought he had died. There was no reason for her to live. She heard the warriors coming. She threw herself out the window. It turns out it had been a fake out by the opposition and they had made her believe that he had died. So, then the church would not give her last rights and that's when he turned on the church. That was a very important section for me, that transition from Vladimir the Impaler to Dracula.
Ballet is an art form that requires a seemingly torturous physical transformation of the dancer. This piece is all about transformation. Do you see an analogy?
I know I have given him [Kevin Gallacher who plays Dracula] a lot of hard work. The lifts are very unusual in this because it doesn't call for your usual shoulder sit. It's not that kind of ballet. It's not a tutu ballet.
This is fundamentally an old story, but what modern elements have you brought in?
There's an alter scene where he's making the transformation and they're sick. Dracula goes berserk. There is a lot of lifting and throwing. That section is more contemporary. His solo, the torment scene, when he's revisited by all the people that he's harmed. That's when he becomes more remorseful. I'm not sure that Bram Stoker's Dracula ever had a conscience. I read the book and followed it to a degree, but then I listened to 130 different CDs from Gregorian chants, monks, classical, Gorecki and the movie soundtrack. I didn't know what I was looking for until once I heard something, I knew—bam, click, that. That's where that needed to be. Like her solo [Lucy Westerna]. It doesn't get more schmaltzy than that Rachmaninoff music, but that's the kind of character Lucy is. She's a little bit of an airhead, really. All she wants in life is to be loved, make people happy and get married.
How are your dancers adapting to flying?
Kevin [Gallacher] the Dracula does most of the flying. Then there's that last scene where he started hauling her off. They actually go up into the rafters. The two of them fly.
What do you want the audience to get from this ballet?
I want them to be engaged. It's dramatic, but it's not melodramatic. It’s a little shocking here and there, but it's not scary bloodthirsty. The lighting by Eric Kennedy is amazing. It's a highly produced show. It's probably one of the biggest in the state.
Should we be scared?
I think there are places that you're going to be a little tense, but not scary in that sense. At the same time, it's Dracula.
But it's a love story?
It is a love story. At the end he doesn't want Mina to have the life he's lived. It's more like Romeo and Juliet, but Juliet doesn't die.