Let me start off my saying I’m not exactly what you’d call a ballet connoisseur, but I do know one of the best ways to enjoy any form of art is to see it live. Most recently, I had the pleasure of seeing Dracula by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. It’s playing from April 12–14 at the National Arts Centre.
This Royal Winnipeg Ballet production is based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was choreography by Mark Godden, features costumes and set design by Paul Daigle, and music by late Romantic composer Gustav Mahler.
In hindsight, I wish I’d read the play synopsis, because I was lost during two scenes and had trouble figuring out what was going on. This was mainly because the performers don’t speak (duh… I realize most of you know there’s no dialogue in a ballet, but it was news to me!)
The two parts I had trouble with were the very first scene, when three men started dancing around Lucy Westenra and it wasn’t until later that I learned these were her suitors. The second was towards the end, when some men, led by Dr. Abraham van Helsing, were confronting Dracula. My confusion was mostly centered around who was dead, who was knocked out and who was winning the fight. But reading the program answered my questions.
The play starts with some writing projected onto a screen, which sets the stage for the first act. This is the only thing in the show that I didn’t like. It felt dull when I was in contrast with the beginning of the second act, when the voice of a narrator came on the speakers in Southam Hall. The combination of his voice, pacing, and sprinkling of humour really pumped me up for the second act. In act one, I found the dance, right up until when Dr. Abraham van Helsing showed up to be a little long in terms of getting the story going. When the doctor entered, things picked up.
Katie Bonnell, who played Lady Lucy Westenra, stole the first act with her flowing movements and passionate expressions. So much so that no words were really needed to convey her story. The dress she wore looked almost liquid in its movements and really added to her fluidity on stage. It was a gorgeous display that brought the dancer, costume, and set design together.
The score was absolutely fantastic. The conductor did a phenomenal job of seamlessly meshing Mahler’s music with the dancers’ movements. Every once in a while, I had to remind myself that I was listening to live music, played by a group of National Arts Centre Orchestra musicians in front of the stage, rather than some epic score in a Hollywood movie at the local cinema.
Not to be outdone, the set design and costumes really brought it all together into one tight display for the audience. My favorite parts were the little touches, such as Lucy’s closing scene in the crypt, or how Dracula changed into a bat and flew across the stage. But the best thing, by a far margin, was how the play ended. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I heard more than one audience member (including myself) gasping at the final scene and ask “how did they do that?” before the lights cut away to black.
This is a show I would definitely recommend to anyone who likes the ballet and dance, epic music, beautiful set designs, or all of the above. I found the experience was a treat for all my senses and was glad to have had the chance to see The Royal Winnipeg Ballet visit Ottawa.
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet performs Dracula in Southam Hall at the National Arts Centre (1 Elgin St) from April 12–14 at 8pm. Tickets range from $26.50 to $129 for adults and $26.50 to $53 for students.. Live Rush tickets are also available ($15 for anybody between the ages of 13 and 29).