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Saturday August 30th 2014

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Countdown to Dracula

By Sarah McCartan

Swooping in with a cape and bearing a pointed grin, while dancing across the stage in a wistful yet electrifying fashion is none other than Count Dracula.

Just in time for Halloween, Pensacola Ballet kicks off its 2013-2014 season with the return of “Dracula.” Presented first by Pensacola Ballet in 2011, Artistic Director Richard Steinert’s rendition evokes design elements from the steam punk movement—mixing the old with the new—including a more modernized take on vampires.

From contemporary dance devotees to those who simply yearn to bask in the glory of a good thrill, Ballet Pensacola combines said realms into a munificent, gut-grabbing performance, resulting in “Dracula.”

“It’s not only great dancing—it’s a visceral event right from the beginning,” said Steinert.  “You get your gut grabbed as soon as the curtain goes up.”

Although Steinert first introduced his take on the classic 1897 novel by Irish author Bam Stoker to the Pensacola cultural community in 2011, he originally unveiled this interpretation in his previous stomping ground of Hartford, Conn. 18 years ago. While this year’s encore performance on the local front will possess much of the same style, there are enhanced features introduced into the mix for this go round. After all, what’s a show without a few surprises?

“I am no good at remounting my ballets without changing them,” said Steinert. “We have new sets and costumes. We’ve expanded the story a little bit, and added new movements of dance and new characters. While the feel is very much the same, as the dancers grow I like to make sure we show that growth to everyone.”

When it comes to the stars of the show—the four lead positions are once again filled by the Company’s four principal artists. According to Steinert, “Tyler Day is reprising his role as Dracula. Kristen Springer is Lucy [Westenra] again. Samuel Joseph Mounce is Jonathan Harker and Kayla Bartlett is Mina [Murray].” These four are a part of the 14 member dance troupe that make up Ballet Pensacola’s professional ensemble—the Company Artists.

In addition to wowing the audience with a time of non-stop dance and theatrical storytelling, amid a sea of top-notch costumes, once again, this year’s performance invites the audience to dress up in costumes of their own. And what perfect timing with the second set of shows falling the weekend directly before Halloween.

The event is considered to be family-friendly, as Steinert notes that children ages 10 and up should have no qualms with the content. “There’s nothing terribly dark, or vulgar—although the vampires can get a little sexy,” he said. Still, he recounts one child of a much younger age leaving a previous showing. “It may be a little much for the six-year-old heart,” he suggested.

“Dracula” isn’t only a show itself, and certainly not a one hit wonder for Ballet Pensacola. Like any proper season opener, the performance sets the tone for what’s in store the remainder of the season—a season Steinert is especially excited about.

“One of our board members says, ‘This is not your mother’s ballet company’ and that is sort of my mantra. I much prefer more contemporary works. We use classically trained dancers who can dance in many ways. I’m not much interested in just putting swans on stage. I like to push the envelope, and the aesthetic is very much ‘Ballet Pensacola,’” he said.

What has become the defining aesthetic of Ballet Pensacola has heightened their appeal and impact both in the local community, and beyond. According to Steinert, it’s increased the “visual impact” of Ballet Pensacola, in comparison to previous years.

“The biggest difference is the visual impact that we have. Now with two nationally recognized choreographers and nationally recognized set and costume designers,” he explained. “Since we started we have always had top-notch performers and now our productions’ values are increasing as well.”

On top of home performances, this season Pensacola Ballet kicks off a National Tour beginning in February 2014, when the Company will make its first stop a visit to Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C. Here they will be involved in community education programs, on top of presenting a five night series of public performances, showcasing work from previous performances including “Thunderstruck”—a show fans might remember as the kick off performance for last year’s season.

“With that many nights and shows, we mix it up,” said Steinert. “Most people will attend a couple of times and get to see a different show each night. And rehearsals are open to the public in these sort of residencies.”

For now, Ballet Pensacola plans on one such residency a season and are booked through 2016.

“I would rather start small and be fabulous, than start big and be stupid,” said Steinert.

“Ballet Pensacola, while it has an unusual vibe—people are asking for us.”

BALLET PENSACOLA PRESENTS ‘DRACULA’
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18 – 19 and Oct. 25 – 26
WHERE: Pensacola Cultural Center, 400 S. Jefferson St.
COST: $18-$30
DETAILS: 432-2042 or balletpensacola.com