Lewisville — LakeCities Ballet Theatre kicks off the Halloween season with their ninth annual Le Ballet de Dracula, frightfully presented at the MCL Grand Theater in Lewisville. The yearly favorite features choreography by artistic director Kelly Kilburn Lannin, assisted by Shanon Tate. The company brings its own twist to the tale with a background story by Tom Rutherford. Saturday evening showcased the children’s costume parade, which provided a spirited and spooky atmosphere.
After a comedic opening announcement in which a thick Eastern European accent warned us against violating the rules of the theater, the mood grew dark as lightening flashed on scrim and ominous music drifted through the speakers. It’s enough to make even the most seasoned LBT viewer feel the hairs stand up on the back of the neck.
Asia Waters splendidly reprises her role as the scampering Ratcliff, who attempts to ward off the fearsome weolas, a bat-like creature that comes out of Dracula’s castle. Unsuccessful, this poor soul becomes a servant of the Dark Prince.
The scene brightens with a new day and an engagement party for Aurelia (Ali Honchell) and Marius (Blaine Quine). Various folk dances, including the Maypole, provide sprightly entertainment. Trouble comes when Dracula himself (Shannon Beacham) descends on the festivities and becomes enamored with Aurelius. She dances with him under a spell, which drives a wedge between her and Marius. Dracula returns later to pick up Aurelia as his new bride.
Act II takes us to Dracula’s lair where his queen Marcela (Mackenna Pieper) and the rest of his brides await his return. Dressed in delicate but tattered white dresses, the brides execute a frightening ensemble segment. Their master returns with Aurelia, but Marius soon follows and kills Dracula. Supposedly.
The visual aspects of the production are always remarkable. Colorful costumes and a meticulously decorated village scene illuminate the first act, while the wispy grays and whites of Dracula’s lair maintain its sinister ambiance.
Music choices from a variety of 19th and 20th century composers fit well with the theme and choreography, but the transitions between the songs feel too abrupt. This is where live music (a usual staple for LBT’s Nutcracker) can really make a difference.
Choreographically, Lannin provides a challenge for her young dancers with Dracula, one that tests not only technical excellence but depth and maturity of performance. Even though the same production repeats each year, it’s exciting to see how the company members progress and grow. Can the corps de ballet exude the animated quality needed for the folk dances and gaiety of the first act then transform into the horrors of the second? Does Marcela embody the right amount of bite? Will the female lead fully travel the range of emotions with Aurelia?
The former group seems to have the opposite issue from that of last year. The current ensemble fares remarkably well as the brides, with ghastly presences and smoldering stares. Even the hisses have the right amount of intensity, and their movements contain the mysterious and suspenseful timing dynamic needed to pull off the character. In the first act, however, the dancers as the townspeople lack the liveliness of last year, with the exception of the “Villagers” dance.
Honchell proves to be a fairly good actress and has an admirable sensitivity to music, and Quine is a dashing and passionate Marius. Pieper presents an eerie Marcela with lovely lines, but her performance could use more depth. Beacham, as usual, delivers a formidable Dracula.
One element that hasn’t changed is the technical execution. LakeCities consistently gives polished and precise performances, which is probably why they sell out almost every show, even as Le Ballet de Dracula reaches the decade mark.