Impressions of MN Ballet’s Dracula
Last night, I went to the Minnesota Ballet’s performance of Dracula. Firstly, I love vampires. Secondly, I like ballet. So, there was a lot to love. Now, when I say I like ballet, I want to make clear that I am not an expert on ballet. My enjoyment of ballet consists of off and on ballet lessons as an adult. I am currently taking ballet lessons on Tuesdays, as a matter of fact. And, as you might imagine, I am a graceless fool with the beauty and coordination of a buffalo. I think this makes me appreciate it, as I can enjoy how wonderful the performances are compared to my own awfulness. Anyway, on with the show.
The ballet began with Harker leaving Mina for Romania. Their dance together was quaint and not particularly memorable. Their reserved dance is suits two stuffy Victorian heterosexuals. Things became more interesting when Harker was attacked by a trio of werewolves. Again, Harker’s dancing was not all that interesting, but the choreography seemed suitable for a character who is a boring legal functionary. Harker was rescued from this peril by Dracula, who at that point was depicted wearing a long dark silky tunic reminiscent of Vlad the Impaler. This version of Dracula has long white Legolas hair. In other words, he looked awesome! This contrasted well against Harker’s less charismatic choreography and brown suit. I also wondered what these suits were made of. All of the male characters wore suits, so I wonder how they were adapted for dancing. The white haired Dracula later found a locket with Mina’s picture and subsequently locked Harker in the basement of the castle, where he was seduced by three vampire women.
The seduction scene was great and aligned well with Bram Stoker’s novel. Harker, the brown suited solicitor, had been pretty buttoned up and proper until that point. But, the vampire women literally undressed him as they danced with him. The women writhed around him, extending their long legs over his torso. To Victorians, their wild sexuality was a marker of their evil nature. In the ballet, their dangerous sexuality and its influence over Harker seems more pronounced than in the novel. Dracula again saved him, though he now appeared younger with the traditional slick black hair and suit. Twice, Dracula saved him from perilous trios, demonstrating his mastery over nature (the werewolves) and women (the vampire trio). Interestingly, when they dance together, Dracula lightly lifted Harker. This demonstrated his supernatural strength as a vampire, but also Dracula’s own gender bending sexual magnetism.
From then on, the story shifted to London. Lucy began to fall under Dracula’s influence, while the mental patient Renfield acts erratically. Renfield was amazing. In the novel, he is a tortured, pathetic character. In the ballet, he was the most dynamic and energetic dancer. I don’t have a good enough memory to recall the various motions he performed, but at one point, he jumped high and did what I believe was a changement battu, wherein his feet were fluttering like a hummingbird. Renfield’s sterile white costume, slippers, and erratic and energetic dancing made him stand out from the dull, black or brown suited assortment of male characters. Like the novel, it was hard to keep track of Lord Arthur, Dr. Seward, and Quincy Morris as they danced. Anyway, the ballet continued. Lucy became a vampire, had a pretty cool dance scene after she arose from the grave, almost drank the blood of a little girl, and was staked. The story then shifted to Mina, who was also falling under Dracula’s influence.
As Mina fell under Dracula’s influence, the “men in suits” assembled with stakes. They danced together, stakes in hand. I thought that it was interesting that this Anglo-ensemble was off to save Mina from the clutches of a swarthy Eastern European. It struck me that various guys I have met have expressed anxiety over the seductive power of “others” (Hispanics, blacks, Middle Easterners, Southern Europeans, etc.) There is an anxiety that being Northern European isn’t attractive to women. While the sun never sets on the British Empire, it is night just long enough to allow an outsider to seduce and transform their women. In any event, the men with stakes faced the vampiress trio once again. Once again, the women writhed and sprawled across the men. The vampiresses managed to kill Renfield and carry him off. It was neat to see the three petite ballerinas effortlessly pick up Renfield’s stiffened body. The “suit men” had crosses and stakes. They defeated the vampiresses and moved on to Dracula himself. Dracula danced with all of them, lifting up at least one of the characters. Again, this is pretty cool as it shows his strength as a vampire, but also as a dancer. In the end, he is staked and the sun rises. It should be noted that the final battle scene is far better than the novel. It involved men dancing with stakes, men jumping backwards as Dracula throws them off, a dramatic caped pirouette, and real flames. The novel’s final battle was very lackluster. In the age of blockbuster movies and video games, a media consumer expects a drawn out and dramatic “boss battle.” I like that the ballet delivered a “boss battle” worthy of Castlevania, complete with Toccata and Fugue and a Lacrymosa.
Every ballet should have a boss battle.
As a whole, I enjoyed every moment of the ballet. It was fun and offered food for thought. For one, ballet is often thought of as very feminine. However, this ballet, owing to the source material, really didn’t have many female characters. Lucy and Mina pranced around in a world dominated by men. The vampire trio were nameless seductresses who corrupted men and women and alike, but lacked individual motivation or characterization. They danced in sync with each other and each wore the same white and red costume. Like the novel, the ballet had a lot of masculine energy. There were seven male characters, six of which wore suits. In a way, the medium of ballet exaggerated the tropes of Victorian sexuality. Since it relies on visual storytelling, the vampiresses must contort and extend to show their deviant sexual hunger. Dracula must physically lift other men to show his strength. He tries to drink their blood and seeks to control them. Mina wears virginal white, but Lucy wears red when we falls under Dracula’s influence. The novel was set in a time wherein sexualities were being scientifically categorized and understood. The ambiguous romantic same sex friendships of the earlier part of the century were viewed with greater suspicion. Dracula is dangerous because he challenges the masculinity of other men (by controlling them, saving them, threatening them, taking their women, and claiming ownership of Harker). The male characters dance together and fight together in actions that are motivated by the female characters, but exclusive of them. The fact that they are wearing tights and dancing around while they do this, highlights the otherwise subtle homoerotic subtext of the novel.
Various scholars have argued that Dracula is full of homosexual metaphors. If it is, the content is certainly subtle.
I like to think about gender and sexuality, so maybe I am assigning to much meaning to the ballet. At the end of the day, it was fun. There were werewolves and vampires. The set lighting and pieces were dramatic. The story was familiar and beloved. So, of course I had a great time!