GHDT’s ‘Dracula’ Dracula’s suave persona swirls once again upon the Indianapolis Halloween scene with the return of Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre’s annual program. As usual, audience members are invited to come in costumes and arrive prior to the 8 p.m. curtain to have their fortunes read and be otherwise entertained with Gypsy music and bravura. But expect new twists and turns on stage as the coven of vampires take us even deeper into the dark places of the un-dead and the living mortals who are drawn to them. The new venue is Pike Performing Arts Center; the dates are Oct. 29-30. Heather King, the queen of the undead, Zhana, in ‘Dracula’ “A new set design pushed us into re-thinking the story we’ve been telling about how these humans came to be vampires,” explains artistic director Gregory Hancock. “Previous sets were atmospheric. This design is more literal, so we’ve made major changes in the story to define the character for each dancer. The piece has evolved within the complexity of a dysfunctional family.”
What started as a simple exercise in “a fresh, new look at the piece” developed into a major undertaking that included writing and receiving a matching NEA $10,000 grant for new scenic design by world-renowned artist Valery Kosorukov. In addition, a partnership was created with Glendale Mall for floor space to paint the stage-size drops and lifts.
In the process, GHDT has found itself extending the company beyond what has become “traditional” modern dance.
“In modern dance you don’t usually get to explore character in a full-length, three-act work,” Hancock cites. “The usual is to present a program with three or four shorter pieces that are movement rather than story driven.”
“You don’t usually have scenery, either,” Kosorukov adds. “That is more the ballet way.” Indeed, ballet is Kosorukov’s orientation, for most of his career with the Bolshoi in Moscow, and recently with Orlando Ballet in Florida, for which he is currently designing a seventh production.
Working with Kosorukov began around March of this year when “I wanted to make a change. Not because there was anything wrong with Craig Spain’s scenic design,” Hancock assures, but because the story he had been telling needed to be re-visited. “This is not the Dracula of Bram Stoker. It’s pre-Dracula. It’s how these women came to be vampires. How Dracula himself came to be a vampire. It’s about the culture of the lost corners of Eastern Europe. It’s about darker characters, who actually are more fun for dancers to explore. The company is different from last season. The board is different. Both continue to change and grow.”
Hancock mentioned his ideas to Kosorukov, who moved to Indianapolis in December 2003 (his son and daughter-in-law were already here; Janna Sinitsyna is with Ballet Internationale). The conversations grew into a collaboration. “I’m an artist,” Kosorukov states. “I listened to Gregory, and I saw and felt certain things.”
The result is a much brighter setting for the first act, Hancock says. The Gothic structure soars rather than oppresses. It is in direct contrast with what is happening between people. It heightens the drama. It makes an audience member wonder what is propelling the action toward self-destruction? What secrets are hidden in the stones and between the arches of this ancient structure?
“Valery’s ideas about the people caused the dancers to have new ideas, too, and so the movement changed. It’s much higher, lighter. You’ll see different kinds of lifts in the choreography,” Hancock enthuses.
“It all works together,” Kosorukov cites. “The scenery, the lighting. What you see here on the floor being painted is a special art form. With lighting, it becomes very different.”
We are standing in the lower level at Glendale Mall. “It was vacant space,” says Mike Brooks, general manager of Glendale Mall. “When I heard of Gregory’s need I was glad to help with an in-kind gift toward that NEA grant. Arts, culture, education, civic development are big in this mall. We have the library, IUPUI, OASIS. It’s entertaining as well.”
The buzz around the mall is that it’s OK to come down and watch Kosorukov paint. He works from scale paintings onto a grid on canvases stretched on the floor, and climbs a 6-foot ladder to survey the work in progress.
“What looks flat becomes three-dimensional when it is hung in the theater,” Hancock illustrates. “Scale is so important.”
He then draws attention to a tapestry of a young woman reaching out and almost touching the horn of a unicorn. Its background is red. On the opposite side of the stage will be a tapestry repeating the tree featured on the unicorn tapestry, but its background is painted black.
The symbolism of color and object subliminally contribute to the overall story on varying levels, depending on the life experiences of the audience member, Kosorukov adds. He designs with audience in mind.
“We must also consider how the scenery will work with costumes and music to build the story,” Hancock continues. He talks of the thin line between stereotypical expectations and the growing body of studies about the universality of vampires. The subject has its own call number in library cataloging. A visit to the Glendale Branch Library provides a handful of books on the adult shelf under 398.45, including vampire encyclopedias, vampires on video and in film, and an investigative memoir by journalist Katherine Ramsland, Piercing the Darkness: Undercover with Vampires in America Today.
Vampires, spun into stories and still part of some belief systems, are as old as the 12th century and as current as today’s TV shows and comic books. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has spawned spin-offs just as Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic novel, Dracula, opened the gates for never-ending contributions to the genre. The Journal of Vampirism, founded in 1997, connects over 25 active vampire interest groups in the U.S.
“True love never dies; neither does Dracula,” Hancock states. “I think that’s why this has become an Indianapolis tradition and why it’s one of the favorite GHDT pieces. As one of the staples of our repertoire we continue to re-imagine it. Audience members keep coming back to experience the changes. New people are attracted to attend because there’s a growing fascination with vampires. We are delving into the questions of predestination and free will, spirituality and our character, mortal and immortal, youth and aging. We live in two worlds. The shell has become different, inside are the memories of the time before.”
Hancock revisits the Dracula legend because of his own cultural roots in Eastern Europe. Stoker embroidered his story on Transylvanian ruler Vlad Tepes, 1431-1476.
Hancock alludes to the company’s world view as their particular niche. “We’ve survived being the ‘step child’ dance company. There’s a small dance audience, period. Our company does deserve more attention and audience. Through our global work we are serving under- and un-served ethnic and cultural groups. We are taking Indianapolis beyond its borders. Discovery is what we are about.”
What: Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre’s Dracula
When: Oct. 29-30, 8 p.m.
Where: Pike Performing Arts Center,
Tickets: $20-$30. Call 846-2441, www.gregoryhancockdancetheatre.org