'Dracula' producer gives Tulsa Ballet personal touches
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Sunday, October 21, 2012
10/21/12 at 4:27 AM
Ben Stevenson has been involved with dance - as a performer, a choreographer, a company director - for more than half a century.
Yet during a recent visit to the Tulsa Ballet studios, as the company is getting its production of Stevenson's "Dracula" ready for its opening night, the mechanics of ballet was the last thing on Stevenson's mind.
Stevenson came up from Dallas, where he directs the Texas Ballet Theater, to put some finishing touches on this work, inspired by Bram Stoker's famous novel about a vampire wreaking havoc on the English countryside.
And it's things like horror and suspense, madness and heroism, creepiness and character that Stevenson wanted to address, rather than arabesques and pirouettes.
"Basically, I'm a theater person," Stevenson said in a conversation after the rehearsal. "Ballet is never just the steps. That's doubly true if you're doing a story ballet. Of course you want the dancers to have things that challenge them artistically. But the primary goal is to tell the story as well as you can."
That attitude is why, when Tulsa Ballet artistic director Marcello Angelini first began thinking about having the company present a "Dracula" ballet, the only version he considered was Stevenson's.
Stevenson created the work in 1997 for the Houston Ballet, where he was artistic director. Because that year was also the 100th anniversary of the publication of Stoker's novel, the Houston company went all out, creating a $1 million production filled with complex sets, Gothic costumes and special effects ranging from dancers flying through the air to a spectral carriage pulled by ghostly, ghastly horses.
"When it comes to telling stories through dance, there is no one better than Ben Stevenson," Angelini said. "Every step, every gesture has a meaning and a purpose."
While the ballet is one of Stevenson's most popular creations, it's also one of the more exclusive. "Dracula" is being performed only twice in the world during this Halloween season - in Tulsa, which is using the sets and costumes from Houston Ballet, and in Santiago, Chile, which created its own sets and costumes.
While Stevenson's "Dracula" was originally created to mark the original novel's centennial, the ballet's story bears little relation to the novel. His centers around two women, whom Dracula is determined to add to his ever-growing collection of "brides."
"I just want you all to know," Stevenson said, as the company prepared to rehearse a portion of the ballet's third act, "how important that it is for each one of you to feel what you're doing. You're all ghosts and demons - " here Stevenson made a few growling hisses and clawed at the air, " - and you all need to be thinking that, or you're just doing steps."
To give Takashi Okita a better sense of how he should approach his role as Dracula's henchman Renfield, Stevenson said, "Remember, you're like this insect, this hideous insect. And every action has to be more intense than the previous one."
Stevenson let out a maniacal laugh, then another - this one louder and punctuated by Stevenson shaking his fists in the air with evil glee.
It was a display that seemed to catch Okita a bit off-guard. But his performance during the rehearsal had the requisite intensity Stevenson wanted.
Li Anlin, one of Stevenson's assistants at Texas Ballet Theater, set the ballet on the company.
"They've done a lot of good work before I came here," Stevenson said. "But I always like to come in and have some input into how the show is done.
"It's sort of like making a cake," he said. "Someone else has followed your recipe, put all the ingredients together and baked it up. Now I'm coming in to make sure the icing is just so."
presented by Tulsa Ballet
When: 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday,
3 p.m. Oct. 28
Where: Chapman Music Hall, Tulsa
PAC, 101 E. Third St.
Tickets: $20-$95. 918-596-7111, tulsaworld.com/mytix
Original Print Headline: 'Dracula' producer gives ballet own touch
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
Ben Stevenson: The Texas Ballet Theater director's production of "Dracula" was inspired by Bram Stoker's famous novel about a vampire wreaking havoc on the English countryside
Stevenson's "Dracula", played by Alfonso Martin, centers around two women, played by Chelsea Keffer and Beatrice Sebelin, whom Dracula is determined to add to his ever-growing collection of "brides." Tulsa World file