Dallas — When Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet last performed an evening of horror at the Sammons Center for the Arts, they weren’t afraid to draw a little blood. Fake, of course, but the effect was there. This year’s Horror Series at Sammons, performed on Oct. 27, steps it up quite a bit, making 2015’s concert seem like a warm-up.
First, an in-the-round stage setting allows a more intimate viewing experience. DNCB set the stage in the middle of the room, with floor seating along the edges and three rows of chairs behind. This greatly solved the sightline issue from last time and provides ample opportunities for the broken fourth wall, as dancers enter from the corners and can even maneuver around the audience.
The one thing that could still use some creative touches is the use of lighting. The setup allows only the house lights to change, and in many areas, it’s still too dim to see the nuances of the movement and costumes.
Phil Parsons returns to emcee, this time as Pennywise, the chilling, child-munching clown from the horror success It. With a spot-on impression and audience interaction, part of the evening’s eeriness is wondering if he’ll slink toward you and attempt communication. Since all six pieces draw upon horror films for inspiration, he provides a brief synopsis of the film and a short commentary on how the dancers interpret it.
Among the more abstract are In Your Sleep by Adrian Aguirre and The Quickening by 6 o’Clock Dance Theatre’s Marielle McGregor. The first utilizes some contemporary modern vocabulary not usually found in DNCB’s repertoire, with nice floor work and interesting level transitions. Displays of flexibility and typical contemporary maneuvers to electronic music make this one seem a bit conventional, but Aguirre spices it up with some notable lifts and sinister entrances.
McGregor draws her own mysterious narrative from the mood of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Five burgundy-clad dancers and a fierce Constance Dolph in black effortlessly glide through a variety of ballet vocabulary ranging from neoclassical to contemporary, with a curious flex-footed renverse that frequently pops up. Some timing issues pop up, but overall it turns out quite nice with a twist at the end.
Laura Pearson’s inSANITY pulls from the 2010 film Shutter Island. Focusing on a lead character (Whitney Hart) who senses something is amiss, the choreography begins with angular movements set to a driving beat, then continues with many formulaic contemporary movements and transitions. A balletic tone closes out the work while creative staging delivers the expected horror movie surprise.
The best ones of the evening, though, are those that entail the most literal interpretation. Elise Lavallee’s Silent Hill weaves images from 2006 film based on the video game of the same name. Most convincing are the Dark Nurses, an ensemble of five dancers in disfigured masks wearing one pointe shoe and one flat slipper to achieve a grotesque movement quality. As the show opener, it proves DNCB knows how to unsettle its audience.
Ballet Mistress Erin Boone produces a shortened version of the 1976 classic horror flick Carrie, but with no less shock. Dancing the titular role herself, Boone transitions through a variety of emotions, and her choreography utilizes traditional ballet vocabulary with impressive narrative transitions. Those who have seen the film (or are familiar with the prom scene) probably wonder how she’ll handle it, as the round stage allows us to see two buckets at the edge of the flooring the whole time.
Are they really going to go that far?
Yes. Yes they are.
A bucket full of fake blood drenches Boone, splattering over the rest of the ensemble before she dances the climactic “everybody dies” scene. A remarkable depiction of anger, agony, and despair closes the first act with a bang.
The final piece of the evening delivers a bloody finish, although not as messy. Dracula + Mina, artistic director Emilie Skinner’s portrayal of Dracula’s romantic obsession, features brilliant dancing by Boone (dancing the role of Dracula), Hannah Rae Kleimeyer as Mina, Diana Crowder as Lucy, and an ensemble of hissing brides led by Lea Zablocki. The story could be fleshed out a bit more, and Javier Hernandez’s part as Jonathan Harker proves way too short, but the intensity is there.
And the blood. Let’s not forget the blood. The final deathblow to Dracula results in an epic splatter that almost hits the unsuspecting ladies seated at the edge.
Maybe next time the company will provide ponchos in the splatter zone.