When Fort Wayne Ballet performed a selection from “Dracula” during “Diversions 19” a year ago, the audience could be heard commenting on how creepy it was.
The eerie vibe is exactly what the Ballet was going for, and it is now preparing to debut the full-length original work Oct. 29 to 31 at Arts United Center.
The ballet follows the story set out in the classic Bram Stoker novel as the titular vampire moves from Transylvania to England. Jonathan Harker discovers Dracula's secret, and his fiancee, Mina, and her friend, Lucy, get caught in the vampire's machinations. Harker joins Van Helsing to battle Dracula.
Though the Ballet typically performs several shorter original works during a season, it isn't common for the local organization to create a full-length ballet.
Artistic director Karen Gibbons-Brown says she is always looking for things the audience might enjoy, and she thought “Dracula” might fit the bill.
Although there are a number of Dracula ballets available, not all are appropriate for the size of the local organization. Gibbons-Brown realized there was a solution right in front of her.
“I found a few that I really liked, and then I thought 'Why am I worrying and working so hard to do this when we have a lovely choreographer in our midst, Tracy Tritz?'” she says.
Tritz, the company's ballet mistress, began working on “Dracula” about two years ago. She has been with the Ballet for 13 years and this is her third season as ballet mistress. A ballet mistress or master assists the company's artistic director.
This is the first full-length ballet Tritz has choreographed, and she calls “Dracula” fun and a little different. Don't expect the ballet stereotype of pretty princesses here.
Just like when a movie is adapted from a novel, there is no way to stay 100% accurate when creating a ballet based on a book, Tritz says. So she has made small changes to allow the story to move more quickly.
Stoker's novel gave Tritz inspiration for not just the story, but also the costumes and set pieces. Each of the dancers portraying a vampire has had fangs molded to fit their teeth.
Selections from Alfred Schnittke were chosen for the music because of the variety and depth of the composer's work, Tritz says. Though a lot of the music in “Dracula” is dark, there are some moments on the light side.
Passion to create
“I love to choreograph,” Tritz says. “I love to set things that have already been done, but my passion really lies in creating.”
One of the benefits of having a ballet set on the local dancers is that it will show off the strengths of each. Tritz says that having worked with the local dancers for years, she already knows what they are capable of.
“When you have a group of dancers – especially some of these that I've worked with for a couple of years – you have already an understanding of what they're capable of and I have a really good relationship with a lot of them,” she says. “And there's a point in time where I can kind of read their mind and they can read mine.”
That makes the creative process unique from bringing in a piece from somewhere else and trying to fit dancers into it, Tritz says.
If a work has already been set elsewhere and is brought into Fort Wayne Ballet, the dancers have to do their best to recreate it. If there is something that needs tweaked because it just isn't possible with the company, the original choreographer or a representative needs to be consulted and approve a change.
Dancer David Claypoole, who will be seen in the title role, says that not only is it nice to have the choreography created to showcase his skills and those of his fellow dancers, but it is also helpful to have Tritz on hand to help the characters come alive.
She makes sure the dancers understand how Dracula sees the people around him, Claypoole says. Harker is a means to an end as Dracula sets his sights on England, Lucy is an infatuation and what happens to Mina is revenge for what Harker and Van Helsing have done to him.
“It's really great to have someone that gives you the inner dialogue a little bit alongside of it,” Claypoole says. “And you from there can take your physical interpretation of it and try and get that across physically through facial expressions, through body language and how you really approach the movement that she's giving you.”
“Dracula” has a lot of movements that seem more grounded than a work that might be considered more pretty or prepared, he says. There is a lot more surprise in the movements.
Gibbons-Brown and Tritz both credit Claypoole with range, which includes being great at playing villains – though Tritz is quick to add that's not his personality.
For his part, Claypoole says he has a lot of fun with villains such as Dracula or Tybalt in “Romeo and Juliet.” They give him something to delve into.
Because of the pandemic, visitors to the Arts United Center will notice some changes from previous Fort Wayne Ballet seasons. In addition to social distanced seating, the house opens 45 minutes early instead of 30, patrons are asked to wear masks, there will be no food available, and there are digital tickets and a virtual playbill. Though there are five-minute breaks between each of the three acts, “Dracula” has no formal intermission.
The state health department has said that masks are not required for the performers on stage, Gibbons-Brown says. But they will be donning masks backstage where there will also be fewer volunteers and as small of a crew as possible. Dancers are not sharing costumes as they do in many Fort Wayne Ballet productions because “Dracula” is not double-cast, meaning dancers will play the same role for each performance.
Gibbons-Brown points out that “Dracula” with its dark subject material is not a ballet that families are encouraged to bring children to. It is rated PG-13.
But the Ballet is offering a performance of the more family friendly “Snow White,” choreographed by youth company co-director Lauren Ettensohn, at 10 a.m. Oct. 31 at Arts United Center. It is an installment of the Ballet's Family Series, and the audience is encouraged to wear Halloween costumes. Tickets are $15 at ArtsTix.org.
The Ballet is partnering with American Red Cross for a blood drive at the Fort Wayne Blood Donation Center, 1212 E. California Road, from 1 to 7 p.m. Oct. 29. People that sign up and donate blood that day will be eligible for a buy-one, get-one ticket deal for “Dracula.”
Visits can be scheduled by going to www.redcrossblood.org and using FWBallet as the sponsor code.
An undead show
Gibbons-Brown says the Ballet hopes to put “Dracula” in a rotation where it will be performed every other Halloween.
It will also be available for other companies to perform. Fort Wayne Ballet could rent its sets and costumes to those companies, and Tritz would profit from the rights to her work.
But first “Dracula” will be seen by local audiences. Since this is an adaptation of a dark novel, Halloween is the perfect time to see it, Tritz says. After people watch a performance (and possibly stop on the way home to buy a nightlight), she wants people to remember “Dracula” as a really cool experience.
“I know it's creepy and a little bit on the dark side, but I think that's perfect for Halloween and I think it's just going to be all kinds of fun,” she says. “Especially that 11 o'clock show on Halloween, I think is just going to be spectacular.”
If you go
When: 7 p.m. Oct. 29, 30 and 31; 10 p.m. Oct. 30 and 31
Where: Arts United Center, 303 E. Main St.
Admission: $45 for Oct. 29, $35 for Oct. 30 and 31
Several dancers answered questions by email about “Dracula.” Their responses have been edited.
Q. From a dancer's perspective, what are the benefits of having a ballet like this choreographed with you in mind for the role?
Talbot Rue (Harker): Having a role set on you is always fun and exciting for a dancer. Especially in this case, where the choreographer has known you for a long time and can tailor it to fit your strengths and style of movement.
There's a little more freedom when creating a new work instead of learning a ballet that's already been set. However, more workshopping is involved and there's a lot of trial and error to see how movement looks on you personally.
Q. What about Mina (or “Dracula” as a whole) are you most excited for the audience to see, and why?
Amanda Eve Carrick (Mina): I am most excited for the audience to experience the earnest and heartfelt character of Mina and the dramatic change that occurs in her when Dracula exacts his revenge. I can relate to Mina's character in many ways, so it has been interesting learning and developing this role.
Q. How different is portraying a vampire in “Dracula” from a role in a ballet such as “Midsummer Night's Dream” or “Nutcracker,” which people might think of as more “light” or “pretty,” for lack of a better word?
Babette Hunter (one of the “weird sisters”): One of my favorite parts about being a dancer is that you also get to be an actor. In ballets the choreography is already set so you have to find your artistry and story within that box. In certain ballets, such as “Dracula,” there is a little more room in that box for ad lib, which in my role, would involve some extra clawing and hissing (under a mask of course).
In Nutcracker when I would be performing the role of Marzipan, which is a very charming piece, I would put a little beauty mark on my cheek to help me get in character. It was my reminder that “You can never be too cute,” as our artistic director Karen Gibbons-Brown would say in rehearsals.
Now, in “Dracula,” I'm switching the beauty mark for fangs! They happen to pose as their own unique vampire challenge because sometimes the fangs like to wiggle around when you're dancing so you have to be careful they don't fall out!