Lewisville — It is that time of year when witches, vampires, goblins — and in the case of LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s annual Le Ballet de Dracula , Weolas —make an appearance to both thrill and remind us how much fun it is to play “the bad guy.”
Currently in its 14th year, it is the same story created by scenic design and art director Tom Rutherford and Kelly Kilburn-Lannin, the company’s artistic director and choreographer that has carried it successfully since 2006. It is a love story set in the legendary Transylvania.
The dancers come from Kilbrn-Lannin’s LakeCities Ballet’s senior company members and are high school-aged with the exception of adult dancers in key roles, including company member Shannon Beacham as Dracula (a.k.a. the bad guy; more on him later) and the brilliant Marlen Alimanov as Marius (a.k.a. the knight in shining armor fiancé). Beyond a doubt Alimanov, who began ballet training at age 9 ,in his native Kazakhstan, delivers a strong and precise performance. His presence elevates the overall caliber of the ballet.
This is a story of romance in familiarly complicated ways. Young Marius proposes to Aurelia (played by the lithe Olivia Davis) who celebrate along with the townspeople of Transylvania in a beautifully realistic, old-school larger than life hand-painted scenic design by designer and art director Tom Rutherford with lighting by Pavel Perebello.
Meanwhile in the evening lurks the hissing and mischievous Weolas (played ominously by Jillian Captain, Lilyana Catellier, Campbell Chavez, Samantha Higginbotham, and Lily Peck) in their black cat suits and blackened eyes, foreboding the evil to come.
Daytime dawns and act one brims with a multitudinous cast of Villagers (Isabel Bennight, Charlie David, Claire Locastro, Olivia Moss, Meadow Park, Lily Peck, Melody Roberson, and Caryl Williams) who happily rejoice upon hearing the news of Aurelia’s and Marius’ engagement. The Romanian Dancers add a folkloric flavor to the merriment as the dance around a huge maypole (with dancers Catherine Blinov, Eryn Feehery, Scarlett Ketih, Noelle Laws, Kaitlyn McLeod, and Annie Pellegreen). Approximately 30 dancers amazingly fit in the rather shallow stage of the MCL Grand Theater on Main Street in Lewisville.
Amidst the celebratory and beautifully executed leaps and pirouettes of the first act, the seductive and beautiful Gypsies (Tatum Grubb, Ava Harrup, Avery McGlothlin, and Emily McLeod) follow Gypsy Matriarch (Denise Clarkston) center stage while further foreshadowing the menace to come.
Accompanied by his hunchback side kick Ratcliff (a comic relief character well played by Lauren Popple), the Count makes an opulent appearance and seduces young Aurelia into a trance. Davis’ Aurelia delivers a nuanced performance that clearly distinguishes her feelings both as the innocent in love, and the unwillingly entranced victim.
Act II opens majestically inside the Count’s castle. I began by referring to the fun of playing the ‘bad guy’. In this case, the boldest of the bad is not a guy at all, but the magnificent Marcela (brilliantly played by Emily McLeod) the leading bride of Dracula and her cohorts, the Brides of Dracula (Addie Courturiaux, Eryn Feehery, Tatum Grubb, Ava Harrup, Morgan Holloway, Ashley Isabelle, Scarlett Keith, Noelle, Laws, Avery McGlothlin, Kaitlyn McLeod, Kailey Scott, Jennifer Warren, and Ally Wren).
Among a cast of well-trained dancers who are also quite adept as actors portraying a story — within this constellation of youthful talent — by far my favorite was McLeod’s Marcela. About to be scorned by the Count due to the pending arrival of the new bride-to-be (Aurelia), Marcela and the Brides magnificently face the audience in a do-or-die stare that means business. Unforgettably menacing, as a proper scorned vampire should be. Ominous and unflinching.
Shannon Beacham’s delivery as Count Dracula (who has owned the role for years), stands out as an incredibly strong performer, able to lift into the heavens not only Aurelia and Marcela, but Marius. As the only black performer, my first reaction was “Oh dear. A black man seducing the virginal white girl.” Unfortunately tainted by real-life convictions of innocent black men with this very storyline, I asked Kelly Lannin about this aspect after the show. She said it never crossed her mind, since Beacham is a long-time company member who revels playing this challenging role. As an artistic decision made by the company, I respect their choice (in spite of my own queasiness on the matter). Also, it's sadly still rare to see people of color in major roles in story ballets.
This is a family show that stimulates the imagination of youngsters into the world of classical music and ballet. It is a beautifully executed performance with high entertainment value for audiences of all ages.
» Teresa Marrero is professor of Latin American and Latinx Theater in the Spanish Department at the University of North Texas. She is a member of the American Theater Critics Association and is on the Advisory board of the Latinx Theater Commons. She is co-editor with Chantal Rodriguez (Yale) and Trevor Boffone (U of Houston) of the anthology ENCUENTRO: Latinx Performance for the New American Theater (2019, Northwestern University Press). Her Spanish-language play, La Familia, is published in Teatro Latino: Nuevas Obras de los Estados Unidos (2019, available on Amazon). She is working on her third play, Second-Hand Conversations with Irene, which pays homage to two women with dementia.