Words by Brittany Greenquist
Photography by David Bailey

The curtain lifts, smoke appears, and ghoulish whispers arise. Suddenly, Dracula appears twisting and turning in gothic torment. The opening of the Nashville Ballet’s Dracula sounds monumental. It begins with the title character’s desperate inner conflict and escalates into a stage overflowing with the undead.

Julia Mitchell as Lucy

Julia Mitchell as Lucy

Though the company has performed this ballet before, it hasn’t taken the stage in eight years. Originally created in 1999 by Artistic Director and CEO Paul Vasterling, the show has evolved over time, transforming the production into something even more whimsical. The score was arranged by Paul from the sounds of Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu.

“What I liked about Dracula is how gothic it is in its essence; it’s slightly overdone. There’s a feeling of heightened emotion. Dracula is sort of this tortured soul; he wants to find true, eternal love,” Paul explains. The traditional story of the embittered vampire lends itself to interpretation, and Paul admits the ballet is a loose one. It’s not quite as melodramatic as some film adaptations, though he says the emotions are all there. In Paul’s words, “It’s pretty sexy.”

This described sensuality is artfully conveyed by the dancers, including Jon Upleger, who plays Dracula. Jon describes his role saying, “The story has a lot of angles. Dracula can make himself desirable. You’re not just playing the monster . . . which is fun because the character has a lot more depth that way.” Upleger also expresses that while the story is more adult-themed than more classical pieces, it’s a welcome change for the dancers. “It’s nice to do something like this where you can break out of those boxes. It doesn’t have to be sweet all of the time.”

Mina, Lucy & Dracula

Jon Upleger as Dracula, Julia Mitchell as Lucy, Daniella Zlatarev as Mina

This marks the ballet’s 30th anniversary, and while countless shows have been performed on stage, Jon counts this as one of the best. “It really is one that’s going to pull you in. And just the intensity of it from the very beginning . . . it’s powerful.”

Paul adds, “This sense of Dracula—a tortured soul torn between good and bad, higher love and earthly love—those are all things I’ve thought about in the past. And I think the audience will be swept away and intrigued by the whole thing.”

Dracula is the feature of a three-part presentation, which also includes Afternoon of a Faun and Satto, both choreographed by Salvatore Aiello.

See the Nashville Ballet perform Dracula October 22 through 24. For more information about tickets and schedule, visit  the Nashville Ballet’s website.

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