Having your dance company’s season opener land near Halloween can be a blessing or curse.
Artistic directors must decide whether to play to its ghoulish appeal, or completely steer away from the juxtaposition of dates.
For Ballet Victoria’s Paul Destrooper, it provided an opportunity to tackle head-on one of the most retold horror stories in English literature and put their own spin on it.
This month’s production of Frankenstein at the Royal Theatre – staged 200 years after the original story was published by Mary Shelley – blends the dark elements of this gothic tale of eternal life and resurrection with the beauty and tragedy of a love story born in death, inspired by the romantic classical ballet, Giselle.
“It’s going to be fun. It’s something that is a great story and it’s kind of fun to do ballets that are a little bit out of the expected,” says Destrooper. Of the pre-Halloween time frame, he adds, “if we do some repertoire that relates to that, people are a little bit more likely be curious.”
The first act focuses on the doctor and his creation of the creature from a place of great personal pain mixed with blind ambition. It features an eclectic musical accompaniment mix, ranging from contemporary to classical.
“It’s told from the perspective of the monster who’s coming to life and is not understanding where he’s from and what’s going on,” Destrooper explains.
One of the twists in this retelling lies in the makeup of the creature: rather than reanimating the heart of one of the miscellaneous corpses he harvested for its body, Frankenstein uses the organ of an unmarried virgin who died of a broken heart, Giselle.
The second act draws less from the violent latter chapters of the Frankenstein story, and intertwines it with components from Giselle, with the Wilis – the other dead unmarried women – converging on the creature and Frankenstein and helping carry the story to its crescendo.
“It’s a more traditional white ballet; it’s romantic and the women are ethereal – and in this case they are a little bit more powerful,” Destrooper says.
With the creature falling for and winning the spirit of the young woman whose heart he bears, it allows for a fun transition reminiscent of the Corpse Bride by Tim Burton. There’s even a bit of dark humour in Act 2, when a meeting between the creature and its maker prompts a mock Darth Vader-Luke Skywalker “I’m your father” scene.
“For the people who are huge ballet aficionados, they are going to see Giselle; they will enjoy the beautiful choreography and be invited to look at a very different version of that story,” notes Destrooper. “It’s neat to do these ballets with a bit more of a narrative that people are familiar with. Then the dancers get to act, on top of the amazing steps they are performing.”
While there is no happy ending to the traditional Frankenstein, he says, “we leave people with a bit of hope. Some of the things that people are so quick to judge have redeeming qualities.”
Ballet Victoria’s Frankenstein plays three shows, Friday, Oct. 26 and Saturday, Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 28 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at balletvictoria.ca, at the Royal and McPherson box office or by phone at 250-386-6121.