Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Dean's review of Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme
Adaptor and director Cheri Costales has chosen to concentrate on the moral lessons of love, courage, friendship, faithfulness and sacrifice in the face of great evil. Indeed, the words "vampire" and "Transylvania" are not used. This is a legitimate focus, especially for a company that has been family oriented. I do wish that Ms. Costales had not chosen to give a pre-performance curtain speech explicating these moral values. It violates the maxim of the theater which is to "show rather than tell" and is not necessary.
The two-act production features a large cast of actor-dancers in a minimal setting with well-chosen and evocative recorded music. The costumes are adequate for the characters and the dancers, but I wish they had dispensed with the ill-fitting bowler hats for the men and given Dracula a cape.
As might be expected from this company, the dancing is the highlight. Much of the story is told through dance and movement. A sequence of folk dancing/belly dancing gypsies in the opening number is effective, if a little long, in establishing the locale of the Carpathian village. Later, aerial silk dancing creates an appropriate erie atmosphere. The brides of Dracula, played by Esther Michnovicz, Vanessa Trujillo and Aly Costales, are excellent. The ensemble and other solo dancers are skilled and definitely up to the task.
The actors are less skilled at handling the dialogue, and Ms. Costales' script is serviceable but a little pedestrian. There are several levels of acting expertise in this company. Kudos to Ron Weisburg, who stands out as a very accomplished actor as Renfield. Cara Sowers as Mina and Kira Akmajian as Lucy are outstanding as well. Ms. Akmajian really shines when transitioning from mousy Lucy to the fierce predator, consuming the blood of small children. Iain Munro and Marvin Gouch, both veteran actors, bring gravitas and verisimilitude to the scenes on the ship. Tim Nguyen is imposing as Dracula but does not bring enough force and evil to the character and, oddly for this trained ballroom dancer, he is stiff. All the other gentlemen are also a bit rigid, but they relax into their roles as the play progresses.
Mention should be made of a simple but very effective special effect in the show. The red-eyed rats on the ship are menacing, surprising, and really scary. This effect is executed very simply in the "less is more" style of the production.
The elite Dance & Theatre experience is diverse. The cast and crew comprise all ages and many ethnicities. The audience is also diverse and representative of the community. Too often at cultural venues, both in Albuquerque and elsewhere, audience members are older and predominantly white. Elite would seem to have cracked the code in being more inclusive both on stage and in the audience. They are to be commended for creating an inclusive family of working artists.
The elite Dance & Theatre delivers a worthwhile evening in the theatre.
Dracula runs through September 14, 2019, at elite Dance & Theatre, North Fourth Theater, 4904 4th St. NW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday, at 7:00 p.m. Tickets $21 and $23. For information and tickets, visit elitedancetheatre.net. Cast: Tim Nguyen, Steve Corona, Cara Sowers, Kira Akmajian, Ron Weisburg, Aaron Mastiani, Drew Sowers, Tanner Tomingas, Isaac Garcia, Kristen Nguyen, Esther Michnovicz, Vanessa Trujillo, Aly Costales, Iain Munro, Marvin Grouch, Tianna Cooney, McKenna Beck, Catie Zubiate, Micah Weeks and members of the Elite Company