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REVIEW: Thrilling Dracula (COLLIDE)

A scene from COLLIDE’s Dracula.

COLLIDE Theatrical Dance Company is getting creepy this season with its dance extravaganza Dracula. This action-packed piece, a revival of last year’s hit, opened on Saturday. This contemporary twist on the classic vampire tale by Bram Stoker is set to a pounding modern soundtrack of pop songs.

This year’s show is largely similar to last year’s, with a number of tweaks and refinements by the dancers. A song or two has come and gone (adieu, Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”) and some new dancers have joined the lineup; according to some returning audience members, the result was “like last years’, but tighter”.

The musical selections are eclectic – “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music and Radiohead’s “Creep” feature on the program, for example – and performed in styles that are often quite different from their original forms (twisted undead mockeries of the originals, one might say, complete with wailing electric organ). A five-piece band provided the live soundtrack, with female vocalist Katie Gearty fronting and the show’s lead vocals coming from singer-dancer Michael Hanna. The live soundtrack should be a great plus, but is also the show’s greatest weakness: on opening night, sound levels were often painfully high; many of Gearty and Hanna’s vocals were annoyingly distorted by overloaded mics. (No soundboard operator was credited in the program.)

One of the operative rules of Dracula appears to have been “add as many dance fights as possible”. These are a lot of fun, especially when Regina Peluso’s Renfield is trying to pull one over Seward (Erik Hunder) and Van Helsing, here more psychiatrists than battle-hardened vampire hunters (“My Favorite Things”, “Policy of Truth”). Andrea Mislan’s Lucy goes on quite the wedding night dance bender (“Bad Girls”) before events degenerate (or escalate) into a set of sinuous confrontations. Like many of the numbers, these spill off the mainstage and into the aisles of the Ritz Theater, which is a treat.

The keystone relationship is, as you might expect, the dynamic between Dracula (Michael Hanna) and Mina (Renee Guittar). This is played as a sort of strange attraction – not to The Cure’s song of the same name, but to pieces like Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” and James Blake’s “Retrograde”, which sparkle onstage. COLLIDE gives its dancers significant latitude in developing their movements; whoever originated the movement, the result shines. Another standout is the Brides of Dracula (Rebecca Abroe, Chelsea Rose, and Katie Taintor) pretty much anytime that they appear in those personas. A pleasant surprise is that female ensemble is just as involved in the vampire hunt as the male ensemble.

Dracula gets props for using The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” in the spirit in which it was written: as a stalker song. You’ll want to see these “Bad Girls” and the gents that try to bite them (or save them) before the leaves finish falling.

Dracula plays through November 12 at the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis.

Basil Considine