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Harlequins and Robbers.

As Dance Magazine has noted ("Nosferatutu: Dracula Returns" by Nicole Plett, October 1 1993), the vampire legend helps inject new blood into regional ballet companies in search of fresh audiences and marketing opportunities. England's Northern Ballet Theatre has followed the American trend with a three-act Dracula, cochoreographed by artistic director Christopher Gable and his assistant, Michael Barrett-Pink (Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, September 16-21, then on tour through November). You can shop for things to wear (the T-shirt, the souvenir bracelet), to hear (the CD), and to sink your teeth into (a pack of garlic and Bram Stoker's gothic novel). Trouble is, Gable's production assumes familiarity with Stoker's melodramatic plot and multiplicity of minor characters. The unraveling story requires a clear focus on the key players, but even Dracula himself (ex-Bolshoi dancer Denis Malinkine) is hard to distinguish among the whirling mists, miasmas, and hardworking corps of the quick and the undead.

The special effects and Lez Brotherston's designs are splendid. Any choreography, however, is swamped by overemphatic acting and a score punctuated by searing screams. This Dracula sets out to curdle the blood rather than provide a dance metaphor for our fearful times.

Imagine the Marx Brothers let loose on a ballet company and you'll have a rough idea of what went on when the Royal Swedish Ballet presented works of the late eighteenth century in a theater of the same period (Drottningholm Court Theatre, Stockholm, August 31-September 14, 1996). Presented under the general title of "Harloquins and Robbers," the program included two reconstructions by Ivo Cramer of ballets that took their inspiration from the Italian commedia dell'arte, plus a new work in the same style. Eighteenth-century dance doesn't have the extended lines of today's ballet but does rely on neatly executed steps and graceful movement. The Royal Swedish dancers do this with great skill and charm, especially Tiiu Kokkonen, who seems to have arrived directly from the court of louts XIV. And just when the performance threatens to become too sweet, the anarchy of the comedy undercuts it nicely.

The evening opens with Harlequin's Death. Then, like a player in a Mack Sennett comedy, Brendan Collins hits the stage in The Highwaymen (the premiere) like a coordinated version of his fellow Canadian, comedian Jim Carrey. Holding together Harlequin, Magician of Love is Mikael Mengarelli. In a plot too complex to retell or even remember, Mengarelli zips around the stage with the speed and changes of direction of a radio-controlled toy car. Apart from the occasional flat moment, this program proved that antique ballets don't have to turn into museum pieces.

The strongest choreography of the evening was to be found in Red Earth by Stanton Welch, one of AB's resident choreographers. It is an abstract tribute to the early European settlers of Australia, who endured much hardship. The moody music, by Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe, is perfectly evocative of the place and the period. A notable Australian artist, Pro Hart, painted the backdrop--a barren scene, wonderfully lit by John Rayment.

Welch's neoclassical choreography expresses the struggles of the settlers--images of dry dust running through their fingers as they squat and toil, of dirt and sweat, of swatting away flies and mosquitoes, of hope and aching despair. In the end they toss handfuls of seed into the ground and stand facing the barren landscape with upstretched arms, willing new life to grow from the soil.

Coney and Damien Welch were splendid as the leading couple, leaping, lifting, supporting each other physically and emotionally, and all the dancers danced the demanding choreography with passion and anguish.
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Title Annotation:Drottningholm Court Theatre, Stockholm, Sweden
Author:Taggart-Holland, Peter
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Dec 1, 1996
Previous Article:Australian Ballet.
Next Article:Don Giovanni.

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