Curtain Critic: ‘A Vampire Tale’ a refreshing mix of contemporary dance and storytelling

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(Photo Courtesy of Nancy Lynn Miller)
While the division between sexes in Scorpius Dance Theatre’s production of “A Vampire Tale” was at times cliche, the show still contained great humor, storyline and athleticism. (Photo Courtesy of Nancy Lynn Miller)

Lisa Starry’s “A Vampire Tale,” which was presented by Scorpius Dance Theatre, is frequently described as “the Nutcracker of Halloween.”

The performance, which ran during the first two weeks of October, included storytelling, pantomime and a worthy-of-fame sound score, just like the Nutcracker. However, the inclusion of jazz and contemporary dance, aerial arts, a twisted vampire clown and seductive vampires makes “A Vampire Tale” an upgrade from the famous Christmas ballet.

Taking the place of a wooden nutcracker prince was a fleshy (and slightly pasty) Vampire King. The Vampire King walked across the stage in steady power and grace with his chest thrust forward. As he first lifted his gaze to the audience, you could feel the tension build. He captivated the room with his stern glare.

As the story progressed, the audience viewed the softer side of the King as he fell in love with an innocent human girl and was torn between his sired bond to his queen and clan and the “beauty, innocence and grace” of the human.

The show began with a display of Daniel Davisson’s talent as a lighting designer. Bold colors highlighted rafters where baby vampires would crawl up and leer at the scene below, sizing up the audience for dinner. The stage was constantly filled with a light smog, creating the damp and chilled environment of an underground vampire lair.

An original sound score by Kristofer Hill accompanied the opening light show. His compositions in “A Vampire Tale” brought forth a sense of foreboding and sometimes contained a bass line that beat like a human heart and drove the vampires into a dancing frenzy.

After the light and sound show, the female and male vampires displayed their talents (apparently vampires also have strong segregations between gender roles). The women entered performing a synchronized jazz routine filled with hair whips, hisses and other sexy vampire appeal. Then, the men appeared through a back entrance and stole the show with their animalistic athleticism.

The men climbed into the rafters, executed flips and showed off their talent to the audience. They excited the crowd; everyone cheered as they launched into the air from push-up positions and a vampire dive-rolled beneath them. Whether the characters were dancing in synchronized patterns or interchanging positions by catapulting through space, both of the opening numbers were visually striking.

The strength of “A Vampire Tale” was in the numbers. Viewing 25-plus bodies move through space in synchronized movement created a sea of vampire sin and a visually harmonious heaven.

Though Scorpius Dance Theatre has an incredibly talented cast, the movement did not need to be complex when all of the performers were on stage together. It was more striking to view several pictures pop out as a static image than to view convoluted jazz choreography.

As the evening continued, the audience learned that vampires do not like to eat bread. The audience also discovered what really goes on while vampires “sleep” in a coffin. The most erotic performance of the evening was during Act 2, Scene 2, when the vampires “went to sleep.” Male and female partners lay down in coffins together only to quickly rise from their rest into the red-light special. Female legs were exposed and their mouths scantily grazed one another’s necks.

Finding smooth connections between bodies could have aided some other scenes in the show. The performers frequently lacked the rolling of the body that creates the seductive and catlike allure of the vampire.

The duets between the Vampire King and the Innocent Girl also lacked the softness needed to portray sensuality. As they were attempting to express an innocent yet lustful love, their limbs were stiff, and they did not soften and compress into one another’s bodies. Their inability to release and connect through breath made the love story incomplete.

“A Vampire Tale” is a show that has the ability to invite newcomers to a dance event because it is designed to entertain. There is humor, storyline and jaw-dropping athleticism. Sometimes concepts and choreographic ideas were revisited too frequently without variation. I would have liked to see more emphasis on creating unique choreography and partnering, utilizing the individual skills of the dancers and further developing the split between genders in a less cliche expression of their differences.

However, I am honored to have joined the “Lisa Starry’s ‘A Vampire Tale’” cult. Perhaps it is because I am a sucker for vampires, or perhaps it is refreshing to see contemporary dance with a storyline. Either way, I cannot wait to see the story unfold again next year. “A Vampire Tale” continues to evolve every year and does not seem to be anywhere near its last season.

To see this post as it was originally published alongside other downtown dance reviews, check out Julie Akerly’s self-published blog, the Phoenix Dance Review.

Contact the author at Julie.Akerly@asu.edu. Contact the columnist at molly.bilker@asu.edu

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