The smell of death is all around us, and it is rather pleasant. Or rather, one of the signature smells of fall, that of decaying leaves, has begun to permeate as the trees finally begin to drop the brittle carcasses of their foliage. Fall is the season of contrast, of beauty mixed with death, of autumn’s joyful and fiery displays fading in to the sad and inevitable embrace of bitter winter. What better way to celebrate this contrast than with the meeting of grace and horror that is the Alabama Ballet’s newest production of its take on the classic vampire tale Dracula, which will be making its return to the Alabama Theatre for the first time in more than a decade.
Dracula has become a cultural icon, transcending the countless books, short stories, comics, films, cartoons, games and plays in which he appears to become a true part of the American experience, like Santa or Chuck Norris. Bram Stoker’s original Dracula, the grandfather of all vampire stories, stepped out of the shadows in 1897, long before Twilight, Vampire Diaries and True Blood gripped the hearts of our youth, and has been adapted into Ballet performances dating as far back as Laslo Szilagyi’s Prince des tenebres at the Budapest Opera in 1899.
The Alabama Ballet’s original production of Dracula, which debuted to a sold-out crowd in the late nineties, has only been performed one time since, at Samford University’s Wright Center in 2006. Now the show is back once again in the old, gothic atmosphere of the Alabama Theatre, where organizers say it belongs.
“When it comes to presenting a traditional period piece like Dracula, a historic venue like the Alabama Theatre adds to the performance. A spectator is already pulled into the story just by being at a venue with such age and tradition, and when we get on stage and all of the other elements come together, the drama of the organ music, the dark, somber costumes, the set, the props and the dry ice, it’s really a beautiful experience,” said Artistic Director Tracey Alvey.
Narrative ballet versions of Dracula gained popularity in the twentieth century. Having seen other ballet companies from around the world present Dracula so successfully, Associate Artistic Director and Resident Choreographer Roger Van Fleteren had the desire to put an Alabama Ballet company spin on the narrative ballet and make it a recurring performance in the company’s lineup.
Fleteren took inspiration from the 1897 blood-curling novel by Bram Stoker, the 1931 film version directed by Tod Browning and a score the company had commissioned through composer Thomas Helms to create choreography that was both tongue-in-cheek and suspenseful enough to tell the great horror and love story of Dracula.
“The movement is classical, contemporary and modern all in one, and it is very clear about telling the fabulous story of Dracula,” said Fleteren who came to the Alabama Ballet from the London City Ballet in 1996 and shortly after began working on choreography for the company.
The choreography will not only be accompanied by Helms’ original recording, but also Helms will be playing live on the theater’s Mighty Wurlitzer organ, for which the original Dracula score was specifically written.
A brand-new cast will bring a fresh life to the original production’s music and choreography. After three weeks of long days in the studio and barely coming up for air, the 35member cast is ready to get out of rehearsal mode and in front of an audience.
Dracula will be played by new company dancer Nukri Mamistvalov. This Republic of Georgia native, who has been dancing since he was 13-years-old, came to the Alabama Ballet from First State Ballet Theatre in Wilmingon, Delaware.
Mamistvalov in no stranger to character roles, he has danced Basilio in Don Quixote, Don Jose in Carmen, Prince Desire in Sleeping Beauty and Van Rothburg in Swan Lake.
He said this show will be his first full-length production with the Alabama Ballet and that he is excited to be making his debut in the role of Dracula, particularly after learning the directors have pegged him as a dark, handsome Béla Lugosi look-a-like.
“I was not aware that I looked like Dracula in the film. I’m looking forward to our performance this weekend—giving Dracula my own menacing look you won’t forget!” Mamistvalov said.
“I love playing the bad guy. I have all of the dramatic, dark moments and I get to surprise and amaze the audience. It’s always more fun than the good guy. After all of this rehearsing, I am just ready to perform.”
Alabama Ballet has partnered with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Alabama for this production, and one-third of all proceeds from Dracula ticket sales will benefit and support LLS programs.
Performance times are Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. The organizers have decided to kick things up a notch this year with a pre-performance bash on opening night. Ballet After Dark, which is sponsored by the Alabama Ballet Junior Board and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, will take place in the Alabama Theatre lobby Thursday at 6:30 p.m., and is complete with a costume party, prize giveaways and themed drinks.
Just earlier this month, Alabama Ballet opened their 29th season with a production of At the Barre at their home studio. Dracula is the beginning of exciting things to come this season including the ninth annual run of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, a holiday classic that only five other companies in the world are licensed to present. The 2011 Alabama Ballet performances will kick-off with the romantic ballet Giselle in February and continue with other classical and contemporary ballets.
Alabama Ballet has not forgotten their younger audience who might not be ready for the haunting performance of Dracula. Saturday families are invited to a one-hour children’s matinee performance of the classic Snow White. Children can come in costume to trick-or-treat prior to the show and following the performance will have a chance to mingle with Snow White and her seven dwarfs.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to see one of Birmingham’s finest art organizations put on a great show for the Halloween holiday,” Fleteren said.
Tickets start at $27.00. For more on Alabama Ballet and information regarding ticket prices and showtimes for Dracula, visit www.alabamaballet.org or call (205)322-4300.
Dana Jaffe is a contributing writer for Birmingham Weekly. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.