Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre amazes with beautifully queer and erotic performance of ‘Dracula’

Written By Kylie Thomas, Co-Features/A&E Editor

As a child I was obsessed with vampires, and no, not just Twilight (though I do own a Carlisle Cullen shirt). So the second I saw Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre was putting on a production of Michael Pink’s “Dracula” I knew I had to go. I’m not a huge fan of ballet besides “The Nutcracker” but I greatly appreciate any type of art. So on February 10, I sunk my fangs into the talent of this spectacular ballet company at the Benedum Center.

This specific production of “Dracula” is different from what the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre had presented in the past. Instead, this production focuses on the characterization and character relationships. It also isn’t afraid to highlight both the sexual and queer undertones of the original “Dracula” story by Bram Stoker. Needless to say, Pink does “Dracula” in a way that you’ve never seen before.

One really interesting thing that the theatre did to introduce the audience to this difference was provide a synopsis to each scene and act in the program. From the program, the storyline essentially follows Jonathan Harker (add actor) as he travels to Dracula’s castle where strange things occur that follow him home after his nightmare stay. Dracula (add actor) takes a particular interest in not only Harker but also his fiance Mina (add actress) and Mina’s best friend Lucy (actress).

With this basic plot in mind, I was curious to see how the ballet would handle the relationships amongst these characters, especially only through dance. But when the lights went down in the theatre, I quickly realized my expectations were about to be blown away.

The ballet starts as soon as all the lights go out as thunder and thick fog fill the stage which has a single bed placed in the center. Harker lays asleep on the bed as the eerie music accompanies the thunder and creatures crawl through the fog under his bed.

I did not expect to be genuinely scared, clutching my friend’s hand within the first minute of the ballet but here we are. This first prologue scene immediately set me into the atmosphere of “Dracula” and to put it simply, it had me mesmerized. This was just the first scene and I was already on the edge of my seat.

From there the ballet flashes back to Harker’s adventure of leaving his fiance and heading to the Dracula castle. This first part act of the ballet has both energetic, joyous moments but also terrifying, ominous moments that warn the audience of what’s to come. So by the time Harker arrives at the castle, the audience is already cautious while Harker just seems joyous, ignoring all the red flags. I am amazed at how well (actors name) portrays Harker. He’s curious and kind yet scared deep down inside. But most of all, as crude as it sounds, Harker is horny, which you’ll see why this is prevalent in a moment.

Now, before the audience is even introduced to Dracula, they’re introduced to his castle hidden behind two monstrous gates that span that entire height of the stage. The stage design and production in this ballet was possibly even better than some Broadway stage designs. It felt like I was taken to a daydream or maybe a nightmare. Each piece, especially the boundless stairs that circle the stage for the castle, was crafted so professionally.

It’s the perfect set lead up for Dracula’s big entrance, bounding down these high reaching, gothic stairs. He’s dressed in a long red coat/cape that touches the floor in a ghostly fashion. His hair is slicked back and he looks beyond human in the best possible way. But it’s not just how he looks that captures the audience, it’s his poise. He walks like he’s floating, carries himself tall and intimidating, but all the while looks so sensual, so handsome. He’s the walking embodiment of human sexuality. So it’s no wonder why Harker agrees to stay the night in the castle.

Here comes my point about Harker acting on his sexual instincts rather than any other inclination. Since Harker decides to stay the night, he’s visited by three female vampires who come into his bedroom while he sleeps. They’re enchanting, gorgeous, captivating, and remind me of siren creatures who lure sailors. Harker starts to fall to their charm and just as they’re about to feast on him, Dracula interrupts and distracts them. But rather than calm Harker after this interaction, he continues the sensuality with his own dance alongside Harker.

This dance between Harker and Dracula is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Pink doesn’t shy away from the queer sexual attraction between these two characters. They’re all over each other but in the most delicate and sensitive way. The way they both move together is hypnotic and they even performed tricks like Dracula lifting Harker into the air on multiple occasions. I can’t put into words the pure passion between not only these two actors but also with Mina and Lucy who have their own involvement with Dracula later in the ballet.

With this bewitching dance, the first act is over and the second begins after a short intermission. I will admit this second act moves slower than the first, mostly due to the first scene which involves a dance attended by Lucy and Mina. This dance scene is entertaining as it’s a lively jig dance but it still drags along as the audience waits for something sinister to happen.

Though the second Dracula appears at the balcony of the dance hall, the ballet picks back up speed. This time Dracula appears though he doesn’t take a liking to Harker, rather he takes a special interest in Lucy and then later Mina for their beauty and intelligence. The relationships between these two characters and Dracula are both portrayed with desire. Lucy and Mina both show a deep devotion to Dracula after their interactions, Mina even drinks blood from his chest. It’s clear that they’re under a sort of spell from Dracula that leads to graceful dances that you can’t look away from.

The rest of the ballet follows the downfall of all the characters as they scramble to try to save Mina and Lucy. It keeps the ending quick paced and entertaining with constant action right up until the end. The dancing here takes on an almost mock fighting shape that’s intermixed with poised bodies that remind the audience this is a ballet. It keeps the audience on the edge of their seat all the way through and this makes the end of the ballet so successful. I won’t completely spoil the ending in case you ever catch this masterpiece but needless to say it’s so well executed.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s production of “Dracula” is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before in the best way possible. Not only are the dancers so talented but they tell the story without words clearly. The ballet is beautiful queer and doesn’t shy away from exploring human sexuality. I felt so moved after this performance for reasons I can’t quite explain. But go see this ballet for yourself if you ever get the chance, you’ll be happy you tried a bite.