States Beall / The Daily Gamecock

Horror! Seduction! Bloodshed! Ballet!

Expect all of this and more from Columbia City Ballet’s upcoming production of "Dracula: Ballet with a Bite." This Halloween, the ballet will be celebrating this season of frights with a thrilling stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic gothic horror novel at the Koger Center on the evenings of Oct. 26 and 27. 

Occult narratives of vicious vampires preying on vulnerable young women have captured the popular mind for centuries; first, in many classical narratives, where vampires are unglamorous, monstrous beings, unromantic and fearful. But with the publication of Bram Stoker’s "Dracula," this occult folklore was invited into the popular mind as entertainment, intrigue and horror.

The gothic novel was responsible for spawning a plethora of vampire narratives, with a whole slew of vampiric novels, short stories, films and generations of fanged trick-or-treaters. And now, with the massive popularity of the "Twilight" franchise, vampires have become the territory of fandom. Tweens flock to see them on the big screen. They’re sexy. They sparkle. They’re perhaps more sensual, mysterious heartthrobs than they are horrifying monstrosities of the night. 

This rich and evolving history of vampire lore is not lost on this year’s stage production of "Dracula." In fact, the ballet has taken on this frightening production for 23 consecutive years, meaning that the show itself has evolved significantly since it was first put on in the early '90s. With a totally revamped set of horrifying, advanced special effects in addition to a new technical director, updated music and lots of new dancers in familiar roles, Columbia City Ballet’s 2018 "Dracula" is decidedly hip to the modern day vampire.

The ballet is, in a phrase, very rock n’ roll. The dance, with strong contemporary influence rooted in a classical style, is marked by swiveling hips, graceful contortions and a marked, tense sensuality. In Act 3, as the company of otherworldly maidens prepare to receive Dracula and his newest victim, they toss their heads back and stroke their throats in a sultry gesture of offering, and a parade of hip-swiveling manservants follow the title character’s dramatic entrance. 

If the production is rock n’ roll, Dracula is the rock star, adored by his Brides of Darkness. Even though it follows the conventional "Dracula" narrative, the show manages to capture the heightened sensuality and mania that vampires have come to represent in today’s popular culture. Like vampire lore itself, the music and movement on stage is a tasteful mix of old and new that plays to a broader audience. 

"It's kind of a recruiting tool," said artistic and executive director William Starrett. 

It’s a great ballet for those new to the art, or perhaps to capture the intrigue of those who might otherwise be dragged along by their significant others. It dispels any notion of stuffy, tutu-clad young women in one fell swoop, showing just how adaptable and relevant ballet can be. It’s accessible, with a clear central narrative told through movement; what’s more, it’s incredibly suspenseful, dripping with desire and terror in equal measure. This year, the ballet will involve an assortment of updated, eye-catching special effects - Starrett was inspired by a production of "Bat Out of Hell" he saw at London's Dominion Theatre this summer.

Don’t be fooled by this production’s popular appeal. The careful constellation of dance, music, special effects, all balancing elements of modern and traditional, come together to form a highly available, striking world of visual storytelling that offers something for every potential audience member. More than just a gateway drug for newcomers to the world of ballet, Dracula boasts an almost severe technical refinement, having been named among the top five Dracula ballets in the world by Dance Magazine. 

In spite of its nigh universal appeal to both the first-time ballet goer and the longtime patron, make no mistake: this ballet is not for kids. It’s an opportunity for adults to go out after they’ve taken the kids trick-or-treating, to be delighted and appalled by the carnal tale of the bloodthirsty title character and his Brides of Darkness. 

To complete this frightening evening out, the Oct. 26 performance will be followed by a ghoulish gala at the loft space in the Columbia Museum of Art, with proceeds set to benefit the Columbia City Ballet and its outreach programs. Special student prices will be offered on the night of Oct. 27 and ballet-goers are invited to arrive in costume. But beware — this ballet has fangs.

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