Texas Ballet Theater is repeating itself again. Its seasons can seem like a tight rotation of big story ballets — The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet. Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Cleopatra. Repeat.
That’s not much of an exaggeration.
But even when I go in a little grumpy about this, the productions tend to win me over. In Ben Stevenson, Fort Worth has one of the best creators of contemporary works in this 19th-century genre. And his landmark Dracula, which returned to Bass Hall on Friday night, is an effective piece of theater.
The biggest difference from last time (2012) is the return of live musical accompaniment from the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and conductor Michael Moricz. It’s well worth another viewing to hear the thrills-and-chills Liszt score played live.
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This is a ballet that impresses not so much with virtuosic or inventive choreography, but with inspired visuals and effects. The very high production values are obviously informed by film and the maximalist style of the modern Broadway musical.
The scenery, the costumes, the stage effects and sometimes the music create an immersive experience in this dark, creepy world.
In Act 1, set in his crypt, we meet Dracula (sporting a 23-foot cape, almost a character in itself) and his 18 undead brides, gloriously creepy with black-rimmed eyes, ghostly wedding dresses and identical hairstyles (apparently, when Dracula bites you, your hair turns into blond Bernadette Peters ringlets).
The brides romp around the stage posing and gesturing but don’t quite have enough interesting choreography. They often hold their arms out front like zombies, and fuss with their ghostly dresses a lot. We also meet the count’s feral henchman, Renfield, who’s groomed like a Geico caveman and has some of the most antic, expressive choreography. Joamanuel Velazquez is a wonderful actor-dancer. We also meet the unfortunate maiden Flora (Angela Kenny), who’s bitten and returns in Act 2 in terrifying form.
In Act 2, the tone and color palette change, with brightly costumed peasants dancing, jocular crowd scenes — the usual story-ballet move that lets the dancers cut loose in exuberant solos, duos and larger groups. The set here is clever — bright and colorful, but with an ominous sky and scary skeletal trees.
Although the score (patched together from different Liszt works, none of which were meant to be danced) is sometimes aimless and lacking the propulsive quality of the best ballet music, it was perfectly chosen for the grand pas de deux between a new maiden, Svetlana (the radiant Carolyn Judson), and her love interest, Frederick (Jiyan Dai). (It’s also effective whenever it features prominent solo piano — the symphony’s splendid Shields-Collins Bray.)
Act 3 returns us to Dracula’s dank castle, with more from the spectral corps de ballet and the central drama of whether sweet Svetlana will become his next victim.
Dracula has four more performances this weekend with various cast changes.
2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday
Bass Hall, Fort Worth