Under artistic director Adam Sklute, Ballet West has focused more on pleasing Salt Lake City's picky ballet crowd than testing aesthetic limits. In Dracula, which opened Friday, both the pleasures and the limitations of that approach were on display.
In the three-act ballet choreographed by Texas Ballet’s artistic director Ben Stevenson and staged by Li Anlin, the first act takes place in Dracula’s stunning lair -- kudos to Thomas Boyd's extraordinary scenic design -- where suitably white-faced vampires do their best Bela Lugosi shuffle. Armed with a gorgeous cape, Dracula, danced with a lackluster surfeit of hissing, bared teeth and many neck-slashing hand gestures by Easton Smith, bites an at-times-soulful Christiana Bennett as Flora. Then Dracula's corps de ballet of vamp friends descend on her in a suitably horror-toned finale to convert her to the dark side.
Act Two takes us to the nearby village, where principal dancers Katherine Lawarence as the pushy Svetlana and Michael Bearden as her redoubtable romantic interest Frederick execute, as Sklute writes in the program notes, "a beautiful grand pas de deux." All the cheerful peasantry is abruptly pushed aside by a snarling climax as Aiden DeYoung's scene-stealing Renfeld drives his master’s coach onto the stage to kidnap Svetlana.
The last act never quite recovers from the dramatic end of the second, and Dracula’s fiery end is overdone to the point of provoking more chuckles than chills.
The dutiful standing ovation from an almost-sold-out opening audience really only caught fire when Aiden DeYoung took a bow. With his wild, matted hair, DeYoung's Renfeld vividly scampering around the stage, slapping the floor to grab yet another bug to eat, was not only the most potent image and curious pleasure of the night, but also suggested perhaps darker textures that might have been mined in what was, nevertheless, an entertaining production.