Reviews

Jennifer Noyer Reviews Festival Ballet’s Dracula

published by Qclaps, October 30 to November 6, 2014 Volume 71 Number 1

The Festival Ballet Albuquerque’s Dracula has become a fall tradition in Albuquerque for over five years at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. This year’s production brought out the finest elements of Patricia Dickinson-Wells’s choreography in a visually stunning performance Saturday evening. Set design by John Malolepsy, lighting created by Eric Kennedy, and costumes that glittered or horrified, framed choreography that has been tightened and expanded into a masterful dramatic dance legend.

The story, based on the novel by Bram Stoker, becomes a horrific Romeo and Juliet ballet conceived by Dickinson-Wells and Michel Barteau. It traces the 15th century love between Vlad Tepes, Prince of Wallachia, and his princess, which ended tragically with her suicide, excommunication from the Church, and Vlad’s (Dracula’s) vow of vengeance against God. The ballet narrative progresses into the immortal path of Dracula’s revenge as a vicious and marvelously fascinating vampire. When he finds the 19th century Mina, he recognizes the soul of his dead princess.

Dickinson-Wells chose music from an assortment of composers, taking motifs from each to identify the main characters or their emotional connections with each other. For instance, a theme from Philip Feeny’s Dracula opened the Prologues in both Act I and II. An excerpt from Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings accompanied the love duets between Dracula and his wife/Mina throughout. Truly spooky music by Henryk Gorecki brought the deadly Minions and the King and Queen of the Underworld to writhing life in scenes at the Crypt. Some unique and nicely performed aerial work on a central trapeze by the King and Queen were danced en l’air by Eugene “Trey” Pickett and Gabriella Rojas. The dramatic action in Lucy’s Betrothal Ball was set to The Emperor’s Waltz, by Johann Strauss.

Flying by Floy director Johnny Pickett worked with Guerra on his moves, suspended in the air, tumbling gracefully, and really dancing off the ground. An amazing and enormous black cloak flew back from Guerra’s shoulders when he soared into the air above his victims.

Dominic Guerra’s was outstanding in the role of Dracula. He was amazing, magical and frightening, creating a ghostly presence that seemed to float above the stage floor.

Lora Sturm doubled in the roles of the princess and Mina, dancing them with lyric passion and a strong classical technique. Her duets with Dominic Guerra, as Dracula, evoked the erotic connection and fear of loss with her fluttering, frantic runs, embraces, swooning falls, and lifts in the air with Guerra. Arabesques on toe that dipped almost to the floor were swiftly interrupted by soaring lifts into his arms. The dramatic chemistry was psychologically strong and believable. Guerra’s depiction of the stalking vampire evoked a magical, ghostly presence as he glided across the stage, seeming to float inches above the surface.

Other outstanding performances included Kelsey Gorelick-Barrows, dancing the role of the light hearted, yet doomed Lucy Westenra. She fairly sparkled in the role, whirling from partner to partner in a waltz that swept up into the air in turning lifts. The four men attending Lucy demonstrated strong vibrant leaps and turns in their entrances in Act II as they searched for an undead Lucy. Kevin Gallacher, Kyle Linzer, Michel Maldonado and Christo McMaster have revived the male dance roles. The six Brides of Dracula have finally mastered the problematic challenge of looking pretty, yet truly creepy in their seduction of poor Jonathan Harker, danced by Louis Giannini Jr. Jose Moncada was a believable madman in the role of Renfield, quaking and clawing at space in his cell. Choreography for the many dark and frightening Minions, Gargoyles and Bats was greatly improved over the years so that clear patterns of groups in space, and unison movements, were all nicely developed. The funeral procession for Lucy is still a favorite of this viewer, with the men leading in strong deep plies and long reaching lunges. The women, all in black, follow in counterpoint moves, hands vibrating and arms shaking as they rise and lower their torsos in mourning.

There is so much going on in this ballet, yet it all hangs together with a strong focus on the drama, and an exciting attention to the stimulating visual framework.

Jennifer Noyer was dance critic for the Albuquerque Journal for 26 years. You can reach her at jnoyer15 @ gmail.com

Ballet breathes new life into ‘The Nutcracker’

By D.S. Crafts / For the Journal on Sun, Dec 23, 2012

To my count, there have been at least four Nutcrackers this season. One wonders what, if anything, new one can bring to the table, or indeed if anything new need be tried. I tend to be more than a little skeptical of theatrical productions that take liberties with time and place. There have been some unforgivable opera designs in that regard.

But “The Nutcracker in the Land of Enchantment,” which opened Friday night at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, works splendidly. Far from distorting the story to fit the idea of the director, this production breathes fresh life into an often-overdone classic. Choreographer Patricia Dickinson Wells has added just enough local color to create a spectacular staging of a beloved classic.

To a large degree, only the names have been changed (the Pacheco family), and since they appear only on the program, there’s no real conflict there. The contradiction of bolo ties and decidedly Russian-sounding music is easily and quickly forgotten. The women’s dress could handily be incorporated into any traditional production.

In the medium of the dance, Wells is a consummate storyteller. As in her past productions, every action ingeniously conveys a piece of the story with exceptional attention to detail, especially comic detail. The opening act is replete with both beautiful movement and visual jokes, giving the sense that we are seeing the tale anew. The huge cast is handled deftly. The complex stage movement all seems intuitively logical throughout, the mark of an artistic master.

Professional and student dancers are combined seamlessly with some outstanding solos. Young Justine Flores dances Maria (Clara), as Julie Cobble and Dominic Guerra portray the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. The Arab Dance, here recast with exquisite sensuality as three female snakes and their handlers, is not to be missed.

The realm of the Snow Queen becomes “A Piñon Forest in Winter” as Natalee Maxwell and Louie Roccatodance in front of a starry New Mexico sky in a misty snowfall. Jose Moncada, so very impressive as the Devil in Wells’ choreography of “A Soldier’s Tale” with the Figueroa Project, appears here as the mysterious sorcerer uncle who brings the Nutcracker to the party – Tio Pacheco.

The costumes are nothing short of fabulous. A sewing team of some 20 workers led by Holly Plugge has created a visual feast, one exceptional design after another, and far too many to mention individually. However, the bodysuit “snakes,” and the glowing red eyes of the evil rats (an homage to the décor of the KiMo Theater?) are particular standouts.

As this is a joint production between Festival Ballet Albuquerque and the Figueroa Music and Arts Project, Guillermo Figueroa conducted the orchestra masterfully. As in his own concerts, he gave a short verbal introduction, enlightening us about the harmonic structure of the work.

This performance repeats today at 2 and 7 p.m. Call 505-724-4771 for more information.
This article appeared on page F3 of the Albuquerque Journal


‘Dracula’ a powerful portrayal of love, revenge

review by Jennifer Noyer for The Albuquerque Journal, February 13, 2011

The Festival Ballet Albuquerque brought back Artistic Director Patricia Dickinson-Wells’ and Michel Barteau’s “Dracula” to the National Hispanic Cultural Center on Friday evening. New set designs by John Malolepsy, brilliant dramatic lighting by Eric Kennedy, and new costume designs by Anna Costanz surrounded this narrative ballet in a creepy emotional statement of dance theatre that had many beautiful moments.

The dancing was technically outstanding throughout, and the sound design fused music by Philip Feeny, with its throbbing Dracula theme, with Frank Martin’s “Requiem,” Henryk Gorecki’s frightening music for the underworld dances, and a love theme from Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”

The ballet is based on Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” novel, dominated by the Victorian, as well as recent, fascination with blood and sex in the nature of vampirism. Count Dracula is driven mad by the suicide of his wife and the withdrawal of last rites by the Church. It is a Romeo and Juliet theme twisted by hatred as Dracula attacks the church and mounts his revenge against the world for centuries. His victims, mostly women, are seduced in the act of a blood-sucking embrace.

Amanda Geilenfeldt danced the twin roles of Vladimir’s princess and Mina Harker. She, with Jaime Chacon as Dracula, created an emotional relationship on stage with each gesture gently and fluidly becoming an embrace. Geilenfeldt’s amazing leg extensions in deep arabesque led smoothly into the lifts with her partner. Both moved into Barber’s musical phrasing with a clear physical understanding in the opening of Act 1. Kimberly White was a pleasant surprise in the role of the Princess’s handmaid, who carried the theme of desperate mourning with deep low bows and whirling falls in the scene at the altar.

Chacon, costumed in a long, web-like tunic in the opening of Act 2, alternated fluid, slithering moves across the floor of his castle, gestures oozing evil intent, with sudden, sharp accents of head or hands. His manipulation of his victims was that of a master puppeteer.

In the final Pas de Deux with Mina in Act 2, Dracula’s emotional connection with Mina reveals his resurrected humanity. When he bends her backward, she is totally vulnerable, but he bends his head over her in an agonizing gesture signaling the loss to come.

The role of Lucy Westenra, danced by Jennifer Boren, is characterized as a light, romantic young girl, easily swept away by the seductive Dracula. She dances with flirtatious hitch-kicks, leaps and turns to Strauss waltzes at her engagement ball. This is a particularly effective piece of theatre as two dramatic actions take place at the same time, one hidden from the other. While Lucy dances with her partners, Dracula and Mina hunt each other through the crowd, connecting and disappearing behind the group dances.

The cemetery scene of Lucy’s funeral is choreographically the most exciting and visually interesting of the ballet. The four men, danced by Thax von Reither, Jackson Stewart, Joseph Gonzales and Kyle Linzer, lead the procession of women following Lucy’s bier. Slow deep lunges, second position steps sideways, arms in angular thrusts, or reaching high with clasped hands, was intriguing with two against two figures moving in contrasting motifs. The women leaned forward and back as they walked in unison, hands fluttering in nervous agitation.

The underworld of slimy wriggly creatures, bats, and evil minions in the Crypt scenes was effective. Dracula’s flight high above the stage was delightfully scary.

The lone figure of a maddened Renfield, danced by Joe Moncada, captured the fearsome jerks of body and mind.


CRITIC’S CORNER REVIEW

Vibrant ‘Firebird’ lights up Popejoy Hall

NMSO’s fall season gets off to a spectacular start
review by Jennifer Noyer for The Albuquerque Journal, September 26, 2010

The New Mexico Symphony Orchestra opened its fall season Friday evening with a true spectacle.

The orchestra shone with sensitive modulations in tone and rhythm, beginning with Mozart’s Prague Symphony 38 in D Major. The Prelude to Englebert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel,” had a charming vignette of Hansel, Gretel and the wicked witch. But it was the collaboration between conductor Guillermo Figueroa and choreographer Patricia Dickinson’s new Festival Ballet that brought a delighted audience to its feet. Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” blossomed on stage as dancers moved in front of the orchestra on a narrow 16-footwide apron.

This was the 1945 condensed version of the original score, but the power of Stravinsky’s rich orchestration and driving rhythms brought the sound space to life. The ballet gave visual muscle to the music.

The horizontal space limited movement design. The dramatic action was mostly between two characters at a time, using a spatial back and forth to describe pursuit and capture. The Firebird, danced by Jennifer Boren, flew to elude Dominic Guerra as Prince Ivan, and the courtship between Ivan and Princess Vasilisa used the width of the space well to describe his ardent pursuit.

With the orchestra in darkness, and a pool of light on the conductor, ominous, rumbling bass tones stirred action on stage. Light came up on the musicians as the bright red bird flew on, her legs seeming to tremble with fast steps on toe. Darting glances right and left captured avian alarm. Stravinski’s music suggested spurts of movement and fluttering wings.

Ivan captures the Firebird, who wins freedom by giving him one of her magic feathers, to summon her when he is in danger. A troupe of princesses enters to pluck apples from a tree, dancing in a long line with unison movement that breaks into two groups crossing through each other, then into playful quartets. They are under the spell of evil Katschei and cannot leave his garden. Here the fairy tale introduces the instant love between Ivan and Vasilisa.

Guerra revealed a strong, moving presence on stage, never deviating from his dramatic focus on Amanda Geilenfeldt as Vasilisa. Their partnering was smooth, and the lifts, turns and gentle falls both musically alert and emotionally honest.

The “Infernal Dance” of Katschei and his minions was a frenzied battle to capture Ivan. Virile, pounding musical rhythms exploded into high jumps and leaps by Katschei’s followers in a demonic dance. The feather was waved, Firebird entered and directed Ivan to the giant egg that contained the soul of Katschei; the egg was destroyed, and the evil spell broken. The princesses entered through the audience to celebrate the wedding.

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