ORLANDO – Was it all just a dream?
The handsome young man from the village lies on the ground, looking dazed, disoriented. He curls up into a fetal position, and trembles. Is he asleep, and wrestling with a terrible nightmare that’s haunting his subconscious?
Then he sits up, and stares out at the audience seated in the darkness of the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, and for a moment, remains perfectly still. Has he suddenly woken up from this tormented dream?
And then the village boy opens his mouth …. and displays his razor sharp fangs, the mark of a vampire on the hunt for fresh blood. The nightmare truly is just beginning.
The remarkable achievement of Robert Hill’s production of “Vampire’s Ball,” which had its premiere on Friday at Bob Carr, is the seamless way the Orlando Ballet merges the richest traditions of the horror movie with beautifully choreographed ballet. Horror may sound like an odd choice to mix with ballet, if you’re more likely to associate this performance art with something like “The Nutcracker” – kind of like the merging of ice cream with salsa and hot peppers. How can you blend efforts to terrify an audience – the true motivation behind horror movies – with the classical grace of ballot? Can anyone imagine the fiends at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights coming at you in a menacing way …. and then breaking out into some gracious ballet moves? It kind of kills the moment, don’t you think?
What works so well for “Vampire’s Ball” is the way the production blends the look and feel of the horror genre’s most celebrated and instantly recognizable moments – the mad scientist in a Gothic castle, the hunchback monster lurching in the corner, the graveyard where a vampire emerges from her coffin, the innocent young villagers whose moment of romance is interrupted by the ghouls prowling in the night – with stylish dance movements staged by Hill, the Orlando ballet’s artistic director. Not so much a story as a series of vignettes, “Vampire’s Ball” is sky high when it comes to setting a mood that magically creates a happy marriage between horror and dance.
The production opens with a vampire, dressed in a black and purple cape, standing before a pipe organ — the kind one might instantly recognize from a centuries old church …. or the kind of instrument that the Phantom of the Opera might have enjoyed playing in the sewers of Paris. A woman performs ballet in front of him; the lighting is a mix of red and purple, and mist rises from the ground.
Then we’re in a castle, where a hunchback lies on a slab, as a mad scientist looks through the sinister potions in his laboratory. He selects a huge syringe, then injects the creature, which comes menacingly to life.
A coffin at the front gates of a graveyard slowly opens …. a woman emerges, and bares her fangs – a vampiress coming out at night. Then we see the creatures that haunt the countryside, where a beautiful young couple dressed entirely in white are spending some time alone together. The sky behind them is dark red, signifying that the sun is setting. They dance in front of the setting sun, to a song with lyrics that include “Whenever I am alone with you, you make me feel at home again.” Little does the poor couple know that the mad scientist, the female vampiress and the ghouls that follow them are slowly closing in on their innocent play …
“Vampire’s Bill” is clever in the way it milks the clichés of the horror genre, so everything that happens is instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever watched old Hollywood horror movies from the 1940s, while at the same time giving us mad scientists and vampires who brilliantly excel at ballet. One of the reasons for that is the enormous skill of performers like Katia Garza as the vampiress, David Kiyak as the innocent village boy, and Douglas Horne as the doctor. Garza alternates between bearing her fangs in an ominous way – and performing some amazingly skillful dance moves, gliding across the stage ballerina-style in her toe shoes, while Horne is equally talented at making the doctor seem demented, crazed, twisted – while at the same time moving with enormous speed and grace. It’s a terrific balancing act that Hill pulls off.
While the first act sets up the loosely structured “plot,” the very different second act is mainly set in the Vampire’s Ball. Even Hill, during intermission, came out to greet the audience and noted, “I’m looking forward to the second act because it’s kind of different from the first act. This is my first time seeing it, too.”
Different, indeed. For one thing, the second act manages one genuine scare that had some in the audience letting out a loud gasp – no small feat for a ballet performance. It also puts a heavier emphasis on music, and manages to throw in a clever mix of styles and influences – from classical music by Bach to Michael Jackson and Rocky Horror. Consider it ballet with a little something for everyone.
“Vampire’s Bill” is wonderfully accessible to anyone who thinks ballet might not be their thing to watch – and so much of it is absolutely riveting. My only regret is that the production only runs for two more performances, tonight and then on Sunday at 8 p.m. Considering how much skill and effort went into this lavish production, it’s too bad audiences didn’t have the entire month of October to catch it. So do yourself a favor: go to see “Vampire’s Ball” this weekend. It’s a great way to get into the Halloween spirit.
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