Review: 'Dracula' a lavish Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre production

| Monday, Feb. 14, 2011

Lavish sets and spectacular production values, including simulated flying, elevate Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's "Dracula," which was revived this weekend at the Benedum Center Downtown. The ballet is a co-production with Houston Ballet and was first seen in 1997. Choreographer Ben Stevenson's language uses a lot of pantomime in addition to classical ballet moves to develop the characters and advance the action.

We meet Dracula and his 18 blond brides in Act I in the crypt of his gothic castle, but the high point is The Bite he takes out of his new "love," the redheaded Flora. Nurlan Abougaliev took the title role Friday night. Despite the larger-than-life cape, his portrayal was not as mythically fearsome as one might hope. Julia Erickson was Flora, and much more powerful when undead than when alive.

Act II was a delightful exploration of village life, with Alexandra Kochis full of fire and charms by turn as the brunette Svetlana. Christopher Budzynski created many layers of personality as her beau Frederick. Svetlana is abducted by Dracula at the end of the act.

Dracula's bedroom is the scene of his undoing in Act III, where he tries to take Svetlana. Frederick, the innkeeper and a priest arrive to fight off Dracula and Flora and save Svetlana. Dracula's death, not by wooden stake, seems final.

The music of 19th-century Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, arranged by the late John Lanchbery, provided perfectly evocative atmosphere.

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