When we think of Rock and Roll, we think of non-conformity and going against the grain. Madison Ballet's second run of Dracula, choreographed by Artistic Director W. Earle Smith, was just that; a unique ballet with a fresh perspective, testing boundaries. It layered powerful Rock music, gravelly sets, graphic videos, and sensuous dancing, to tell the timeless story of Dracula. The Gothic tale, set in Modern day England, included a young cast, mostly from the Mid West. Dracula (Matthew Linzer) and Harker (Brian Roethlisberger) battle for the love of Mina and the well-being of Lucy. The dramatic story sets the tone for the visually rich stage and dynamic music. The original rock score by Madison composer Mike Massey, played by a seven piece band on stage alongside the dancers, was a central part of the production.

© John Urban
© John Urban

The romantic meets rock-nation/punk ballet was a great idea and a risk. The big jumps and leaps contrasted by the arched backs and flexed hands broke the mould of what one traditionally expects from from a classical ballet company. Smith was ambitious and creative in his movement vocabulary. The use of the arms and the incredible number of jumps and turns were contrasted by the seductive head movements revealing fangs, eerie facial expressions, and multiple kissing and love-making scenes. The ballet was not a pretty one; it rather challenged the norms of what a modern ballet could be. Latin dance hip thrusts and comical buffoon-like characters added to the uniqueness of the ballet.

The show opened with a lightweight gauze projecting branches, skulls, and industrial parts, layered one on top of another, all brown and golden in tone but harsh in texture. Harker, wearing western cowboy belt buckles and brown pants, entered the stage first, wandering lost in the space. Although hesitant in the beginning, the dancer allowed the powerful rock music to carry him through the scene. Eventually, finding the energy needed to not be overpowered by the dramatic set, the big jumps and leaps started to fill the stage and the auditorium. Dracula, who entered with a slow dramatic walk and arms rippling, performed thrilling steps and soaring dance combinations. Quite a tall dancer, Linzer was a great contrast to Jackson Warring, who played Dr Seward's patient, Renfield. With more flexed-feet jumps and funny Harlequinesque movement, Renfield was a highlight of the show. The duet between Dracula and Renfield was superb. Another highlight was the solo by Marguerite Luksik, as Lucy. Although petite in frame, she commanded the space and flirted with the audience. While a vixen on stage, she never lost the elegance of a prima ballerina, or the grace of a gazelle. The movement was mainly linear and failed to use the monstrous set for more than entrances and exits. However, the romantic duets and the two trios were beautifully choreographed and performed.

This rebellious rock ballet, which combined dramatic dancing and facial expressions with industrial-looking scenery and was set to rock music, reminded me of a Led Zeppelin album. Combining the heavy-duty rock music, the gritty set and the seductive dancing did not always work harmoniously, leaving me a bit overloaded trying to negotiate the clash of different elements. The set often overpowered the choreography, and the dancers sometimes failed to commit to the movement, consequently leaving me lost in the midst of the loud music and the grim set.