A Haunting Ballet

Dracula dances his way through an iconic Newport mansion


Vampires have never been more visible in pop culture, with the popularity of Twilight, Vampire Diaries and True Blood. However, the quintessential vampire is the debonair, charismatic and hauntingly seductive Count Dracula, from which all the fictional vampires – from Barnabas Collins to Edward Cullen – take shape.

Dracula, the fictional character created from myths and legends and written by Bram Stoker in 1897 in the novel of the same name, spawned not only movies and stage plays but also other interpretations. This month’s ballet performance by Island Moving Company, Newport’s premier dance troupe, is just one beautiful example of the latter.

Continuing its 30th anniversary season, Island Moving Company will reprise artistic director Miki Ohlsen’s site specific Dracula, A Dangerously Close Dance, which premiered in 2009 at Belcourt Castle. It’s being reimagined at a new location – Seaview Terrace – to be presented from October 17-21. If you, like me, were a fan of the cult classic ‘60s TV series Dark Shadows (featuring the aforementioned Barnabas Collins), then this turreted location may be familiar to you, as it was the backdrop for the series.

Working a site-specific ballet includes paying attention to the piece, the music and the location. Ohlson enjoyed collaborating with composer Felex Ventouras. “Most of it was done over the phone as he would play a piece of music,” she says. Ventouras will also tweak some the music composition to work with the new setting. Ohlsen explains that a site-specific ballet is more of an experience for the audience as they move from room to room with the dancers and musicians. There is no need for a set, as they work within the mansion. The rooms used at Seaview fit within Stoker’s description of the rooms in Dracula’s castle. Of course, they will remove more modern furniture in cooperation with the site coordinator.

Like Dracula, who relocated his cof- fin from his castle in Transylvania to a new abode in London, the Seaview moved to Newport in 1923 from Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. The largest home to be relocated by road and rail, the event was immortalized in Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Inspired by Stoker’s novel, Dracula the ballet features new cast member Jason Stoltz in the title role of the suave vampire. Stoltz recently moved to the East Coast and performed with the company during this season’s Great Friends Dance Festival. It also features company regulars Christine Sandorfi (as one of Dracula’s brides) and Shane Farrell (as Jonathan Harker) as well as several members of the Junior Dance Company as succubbi and gypsies.

Sandorfi, in her sixth season with Island Moving Company, says “We’re excited to be in a new location to rework the ballet to fit the nuances of the place.” She continues, “For a dancer, a site-specific ballet is very different from doing a ballet set on a stage. There are always a lot of challenges, as well as opportunities, to take advantage of things that wouldn’t be available in a traditional theater setting. An old Newport mansion such as Seaview already contributes a lot to the atmosphere just by way of its architecture.”

In addition to dance, this multi-faceted ballet also incorporates film and trapeze work. Ohlsen explains: “The film is used to allow the audience to see what is happening outside of the mansion, as when Harker arrives at the castle.” The trapeze work involves silks hanging from the ceiling. Sandorfi explains the scene: “There will be four succubi and two of us [brides], myself and Meredith Baer, who will start by coming down from the ceiling above Harker’s bed.” This in itself presents several challenges. “Silks are obviously very different than ballet. We can be dancing full-time but still not be ‘in shape’ enough for them as they use completely different muscle groups.” The other challenge is the aesthetic. “The aerial work is difficult, but in ballet we always try to make things look easy,” says Sandorfi.

So that the ballet is an intimate experience, guests are limited to 85 for each of the seven performances. There are also some special opportunities to dine and dance with the count, including a gala Masked Ball on Friday, October 20 and a post-show supper with the count on October 21.

Coincidentally, 2012 is the centenary celebration of Stoker’s death. As some of you may know, a few Rhode Island vampire legends are said to have provided some inspiration to Stoker’s Dracula. How appropriate to reprise this ballet within such a fitting setting. While start doning their capes for Halloween parties this month, Dracula, A Dangerously Close Dance may be the perfect seasonal treat for adults this month.


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