SAN DIEGO — Bloodthirsty vampires, giant bats and howling werewolves are the sort of netherworldly creatures that run rampant on Halloween. But who expects to meet up with these menacing Gothic monsters in the gossamer world of ballet?
Not until the California Ballet Assn. commissioned Charles Bennett to design a dance drama based on the centuries-old Dracula legend had Bram Stoker's turn-of-the-century novel ever made the metamorphosis to the classical repertory.
But the Transylvanian count with the healthy appetite for human blood will make his nocturnal forays on the stage of Symphony Hall, at 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday, and during a 2:30 p.m. matinee Saturday.
As Bennett explained in an interview during the making of the ballet, "I've wanted to do it for about 20 years. I'm fascinated by the subject and by its enormous popularity over the years, so I've immersed myself in as much vampire lore as I could. They've had plays, movies, and three full-length operas based on 'Dracula.' One (opera) influenced Wagner."
Using a trilevel stage to depict the 24 scenes in his three-act ballet, Bennett created overlapping activities designed to drive the melodrama at a furious pace.
"It's so complex, it's mind-blowing for me," Bennett said. "I've worked on the piece for two years now. 'Dracula' affords interesting and unusual opportunities for ballet, and we do every kind of movement, from Transylvanian Gypsy dancing to the tango," popular during the early 20th Century, the temporal setting for the ballet.
Company dancers can sink their teeth into several roles; home-grown ballerina Denise Dabrowski (Lucy) and others in the 44-member cast were fitted with fangs for the occasion.
Paul Sanasardo, who has been performing for 42 years, was imported to play the hissing villain. New York designer Alan Madsen created the authentic and lavishly detailed period costumes for the piece (and supervised their construction here in San Diego). And the San Diego Opera built the elaborate decor, designed for the ballet by Tom Bollard.
Bennett concocted a lugubrious musical pastiche that borrows from Wagner and various contemporary composers, and punctuated the musical intervals with an eerie wail--the leitmotif signaling the presence of Dracula.
Sanasardo was coaxed out of retirement to play the title role. As he explained only half in jest: "Dracula was my chance to do a self-portrait. The critics labeled me the dark poet, because I have a history of playing Death. I stopped dancing three years ago, but I'm an intense performer and I just couldn't say no to this role.
"To me, the villain is an interesting character. He's the one who commits the sins all of us want to commit. Now I don't have to hold back," Sanasardo said. "How could I pass this up?"