Fresh blood: The new 'Dracula'

New faces and a sexy, modern vibe put more bite in ballet's 'Dracula'

It's not about capes anymore.

"Dracula: Ballet With a Bite," the Columbia City Ballet's interpretation of the Bram Stoker vampire classic novel, begins its 16th production tonight at the Koger Center.

William Starrett, the company's director, is acutely aware of the recent fascination with vampires.

There's "True Blood" on HBO and "The Vampire Diaries" on the CW network, and the "Twilight" movie franchise will release its second installment next month.

There's even a vampire iPhone application.

The living dead now wear tight jeans and V-neck T-shirts, and they once again have their teeth in the neck of popular culture.

"Now people have a different image," Starrett said. "They're expecting a younger, attractive vampire - and not so many capes."

Starrett has updated the ballet's choreography, music and cast. Josh Anderson, handsome and lithe, will dance the role of Dracula, taking over for Robert Michalski.

Anderson's youthful appearance is an important shade in this colorful production. On a recent visit to the company's Main Street studios, the dancers rehearsed several scenes.

It was immediately clear what made the dancing compelling: The faces of the dancers.

"This is how we compete," Starrett said of the dramatic facial expressions.

In the second scene of Act II, Lucy Westenra, danced by the radiant Regina Willoughby, sleepwalks, on point, through a cemetery. The corps de ballet writhe on the ground in the seductive movements of the undead, lifting and dropping their cascading heads.

Many faces are snarling, but the effect is not menacing, especially with all that flowing hair. A gift of being a vampire is the power of sensual enticement, the power of seduction.

"The hair in the choreography becomes another limb," Starrett said. "That's why they have long hair. I use it in the choreography to be alluring."

The ballet's story line continues to reflect the past of castles and moats, but the costuming has undergone wardrobe changes. There are no skinny jeans, but the Victorian appearance has been damned.

In scene two of Act I, a quartet dance is performed by Jose Serrano, who acts as Jonathan Harker, and Dracula's three maidens, Victoria Cholkas, Kathryn Smoak and Alicia White.

The maidens take turns attempting to extract fresh blood from the muscular Serrano, hopping on his back and tearing his shirt. Smoak, who was rehearsing with an injured rib, endured Serrano's physical rebuffing, her body gracefully sliding across the floor.

At tonight's debut, Cholkas will jump off a platform onto Serrano's back. The dance is riveting, but you'll notice what the maidens are wearing: puffy ballet skirts with gothic-like shredded edges.

After the scene, Starrett and Alexis Doktor, the ballet's talented costume supervisor and company dancer, discussed the dress material. Starrett wanted to double the layers of fabric.

"But that might wrap around Jose," Doktor said.

"Yeah," Starrett said, pulling at one dancer's skirt.

"You realize that might rip off," Doktor said, unconvinced.

"Yeah," Starrett answered. "Jose is a good partner. He can handle it.

"It's another prop. You just have to practice."

The ballet isn't all about seduction, as there are moments of tenderness, especially the scenes with Katie Massey, a young dancer who plays the Harkers' daughter. Massey, 13, is in middle school, but after watching her dance with professionals, her talent is obvious.

"I could have had one of my shorter company professionals," Starrett said about casting Massey. "I love the innocent quality. She's really gifted."

This ballet is about fresh blood.

It's not about capes anymore.