Dallas — Before arriving at the Sammons Center for the Arts for opening night of Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet’s annual Horror Series on Oct. 5, I speculated with another concertgoer on which horror character would emcee that evening. In 2015, Dallas-based actor Phil Parsons portrayed Vincent Price, and he returned in 2017 as an uncanny Pennywise from It. Who would it be this year? Eleven from Stranger Things? A habit-wearing demon from The Nun? Or perhaps it would be Michael Myers in honor of this month’s release of Halloween? We agreed on the latter possibility and entered the Meadows Hall to take our seats on one side of the performance floor, set in the round.
Our prediction was confirmed as the lights dimmed and shrieking violin sounds played over the speaker. A white-masked figure clad in a navy jumpsuit holding a large knife ominously entered the stage and made his way towards a wide-eyed patron. Completing breaking character, however, he speaks, setting up the mood for a production that provides chills but also doesn’t take itself too seriously, either. Parsons’ Myers is a humorous one, joking about the various Halloween incarnations, providing explanation and some commentary on the six ballets.
Whitney Hart pulls from the Annabelle movies for Find Me, with an eerie doll created by Keith Zablocki. Hannah Rae Kleimeyer dances the role of Donna Higgins, who receives the doll from her mother (Erin Boone). As the embodiment of the Annabelle doll, Lea Zablocki first begins her unsettling appearance by walking around the perimeter of the Hall with a sinister smile. As Donna encounters her, Annabelle slinks towards Donna and places her outstretched hand just inches from Donna’s neck. In the suspense, patrons could almost feel the hairs standing up on the backs of their own necks. An even creepier image closes out the ballet, as the actual doll sits up from the ground and turns its head towards the audience.
The concert took a sharp turned towards the unexpected, with Jeff Gibbons’ unique take on the psychology behind Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Projections of birds on the ceiling and Tristan Rodney entering with small blackbirds suspended on wires from his white dress shirt created an intriguing picture that seemed to fit right in.
That is, until the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” played over the speaker, complete with disco lights and Rodney performing iconic moves from Saturday Night Fever. Athletic execution and a confident performance quality garnered many cheers from the audience, but the thought remained of when it would grow more serious.
The answer depends on what one would deem serious, as Whitney Hart entered donning a well-made blackbird head, with black ballroom shoes, capris, and top to match. As they continued the disco theme with a harmonious and romantic duet to the Bee Gees’ “More Than a Woman,” one could only laugh and enjoy the oddity of a twist on the film’s underlying meanings.
Artistic director Emilie Skinner reprises the hit Coven, based on Dario Argento’s 1977 Suspiria, a work they’ll perform on Halloween night at the Texas Theatre with the screening of the film. It’s fitting, given the remake that’s set to release later this month. Zablocki returns to her role as the unsuspecting ballet student Suzy, this time with Erin Boone as the headmistress and coven leader. This particular cast of witches wasn’t as convincing as those previously, but they handled the bloody mess well, closing Act I on a spooky note.
Erin Boone’s take on the film Misery, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, features newcomer Walker Sims as Paul Sheldon and Boone as Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates’ character in the film). Her use of the sledgehammer for the infamous escape scene proved highly effective, judging from the cringes in the audience. The almost-constant ballet vocabulary, however, wasn’t the best fit (even though she delivered a strong performance), and the inclusion of the dream spirits was confusing.
Elise Lavallee’s stunner Silent Hill from last year got a horrifying facelift. In addition to the grotesquely shaped nurses that terrified everyone before, the sweet-looking Vivian Chauza transforms from the innocent child Sharon (whom her mother Rose desperately seeks) to the evil spirit Alessa. With her blond hair completely covering her face and her body jerking unnaturally, it’s no wonder her mother (Zablocki) is shocked at what she finds. To make matters worse (for the characters and the unsuspecting audience), Pyramid Head (a stilt-walking Winston Daniels) enters from the exterior doors, looking identical to the fearsome character and swinging a gigantic knife.
As if to ease any nightmares that might come out of such an image, Skinner closes the performance with her ’80s-inspired ballet Teen Wolf, based on the 1985 film in all its glorious cheesiness. Scrunchies, short basketball shorts, and sequins dominated the piece, only emphasizing the lyric-driven, campy choreography. The closing finale emphasized the dominating theme of the evening, that of combining both the festivities and frights of the creepiest time of year.