Take one spooky story. Add one spooky castle. Stir in suspenseful music and dance movement. What you get is Island Moving Co.’s Dracula, based on the novel by Bram Stoker, at Newport’s Belcourt Castle, for reprise performances through March 28. With a libretto and choreography by artistic director Miki Ohlsen, the ballet moves the audience from room to room in this 1894 mansion. New York-based composer Felix Ventouras joins other musicians to play his commissioned score, even making use of Belcourt’s 1891 Steinway grand piano and its pipe organ (shades of Bela Lugosi).
Indeed, the novelty of utilizing the Belcourt site never overshadows the dramatic effect of the music nor the evocative impact of the dancing. The audience enters a large, chandeliered first floor room, and a masked ball is in progress. Count Dracula has invited guests for the evening, and the dancing is appropriately flavored (a la Transylvania) with folk dance steps and gestures. Suddenly a group of female gypsy dancers enters, and three of them lure three young men to dance with them. The men are so bewitched that they also incorporate some gypsy moves, clapping hands and slapping thighs.
Dracula (memorably performed with restrained teeth-gnashing but plenty of cape-twirling by David DuBois) appears, dressed in red satin and oozing arrogance toward his guests. He banishes the gypsies and then vanishes. But after the guests have left, there’s a gripping scene in which DuBois/Dracula rises from a coffin to be dressed by his three female handmaidens, who are also vampires — aka the three gypsy women (Meredith Baer, Brooke DiFrancesco, and Christine Sandorfi).
“The three brides live with him, and they sustain each other with their blood,” Ohlsen explained at a recent rehearsal in IMC’s Newport studio. “They revere him but he has complete control over them.”
The three vampire brides sometimes splay their fingers, spider-like, and sometimes arch their arms like bat wings. Dracula ripples his fingers along his neck, contemplating past and future blood-sucking moments, and when he holds one of the female dancers as she bends back against his arm, he runs his other hand down the middle of her chest, a symbol of his physical possession.
Throughout Dracula, Ohlsen effectively but subtly uses the sweep and flow of ballet to highlight the themes of seduction and submission that are inherent in this story. In the Belcourt library, where the next scene is set, Jonathan Harker (Darion Smith) arrives from London to complete a real estate transaction with the count. DuBois makes Dracula’s attitude toward Harker both menacing and sexually suggestive, and they tussle over a picture of Harker’s fiancée Mina (Lilia Ortola).
Harker realizes he is a captive in the castle, and he dances a plaintive lament in a high-ceilinged Gothic-styled room into which the audience has been led. The vampire brides come to him, tempting and luring him, spinning him upright, rolling him over and over on the floor. Then Mina comes to him in a dream, putting her arms around his head but not touching him. Somehow Harker escapes, and the scene shifts in Act II to Lucy’s home in London three months later. Lucy is sweetly portrayed by Kristy Reynolds; her frantic suitor Holmwood by Shane Farrell. Eddie Camara completes the cast, as a Dutch professor called upon to try to heal Lucy, after her encounter with Dracula.
Ohlsen tells the rest of the story with a deft touch: a gentle, light-hearted duet between Lucy and Mina, followed by a romantic foursome, as the girls’ fiancées dance with them; two conquests by Dracula, intertwining melodrama and heartfelt tragedy; and a final dance with the vampire brides, gathering the audience around them on a landing above the large staircase.
In addition to the rooms of the castle as surround-performance backdrops, Dracula uses two short videos projected on the castle walls, trapeze work by the vampire brides, and other “special effects” that take advantage of the layout of the castle. Ventouras’s music is mood-setting and story-enhancing without ever becoming intrusive. And Ohlsen’s choreography, inspired by her extensive research on this mythic tale, is similarly restrained, but totally captivating.