The Daily Gamecock

'Dracula: Ballet with a Bite' returns to Columbia just in time for Halloween

Trying to reinvent a ballet 22 times may seem like a daunting task for a choreographer. However, William Starrett, the executive and artistic director for Columbia City Ballet, sees it as one of the best parts of his job.

Starrett is in charge again of this year’s incarnation of “Dracula: Ballet with a Bite,” a bloody and revisionist version of the classic vampire tale. Every year, Starrett tries to change the production so it will always stay fresh for everyone involved.

“I kind of reinvent it every year. I change up some key things. People who make it a tradition, it’s always different and new for them, it’s not boring for me and it continues to be challenging and not boring for the dancers,” Starrett said.

One of the most important ways Starrett does this is by always adapting to the changing music scenes of the times, as he incorporates different music every year. He hopes these changes can add something special to every year’s performance.

“My job is to really to let the story unfold through the music. So, if I like the music, the choreography is really great, but a lot of it is just when I hear music, I see movement,” he said.

Over the summer, the technical crew for the ballet traveled all the way to Transylvania to observe and take notes on Dracula’s castle and the interior decorations. It’s this kind of planning that goes into the show every year that means “new sets and scenery, new music, a new ending” for the ballet.

In 1991, Starrett’s board of directors had him go away from the classics and try something different. He reluctantly did some research on “Dracula” and quickly became impressed by the show in general. He knew he could make something special with this new format.

“When we first started it was Bela Lugosi, and the old black and white movies was kind of the standard. Now it’s so more current and trending, and the vampires are younger,” he said.

Starrett thinks this evolution in how vampires are processed and changed by the culture over time adds an extra spark in his work that gets him excited to do it year after year.

“You have these amazing seductive powers that you just automatically receive, sort of like a gift of making a deal with the devil," Starrett said. "... It’s kind of like a dark superhero."

Starrett says there is a ton of pressure on everyone to do their best for the ballet. Casting for the children’s roles can be a process, and getting old dancers reconnected with the choreography while also teaching brand-new dancers can be very tiresome. Along with all the special effects and animals used in the production, and the high expenses, everyone is basically forced to succeed.

“There’s a lot of pressure to be very smart and very attentive and they have to be very physically fit,” Starrett said about what the dancers must endure.

What makes “Dracula” so different than your standard ballet comes from its subject matter. If you are unfamiliar with ballet, you may get the impression it is just three hours of people dancing to classical music. Starrett is well aware of this perception, so he tries to make “Dracula” go against your preconceived notions of what a ballet is supposed to be.

“The men who think this is a bunch of little girls running around in white, fluffy tutus learn that ballet is so diverse and so different, and you can tell any story through ballet,” he said.

Following Friday’s performance, there will be “Gala with a Bite: Dracula’s Masquerade Affair" taking place at City Market Place in the Vista. This is to raise money for the ballet’s Educational Outreach program, which helped 18,000 children last year. After Saturday’s performance, there will be a costume contest with a cash prize.

“Dracula is a great performance to come because, especially for students, you do things before and after, it’s a great thing to kickoff, get started your Halloween night then go on after that,” Starrett said. 

“Dracula: Ballet with a Bite” will be performing on Oct. and 28.