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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Neos Dance Theatre stages ‘highly dramatic’ ‘Dracula’

11/7/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

Dancer Brooke Wesner is shown in a scene in Neos Dance Theatre’s “Count … The Legend of Dracula.”
Photo: Dale Dong
DOWNTOWN AKRON — It was truly a dark and stormy night as Neos Dance Theatre prepared for its performance of “Count … The Legend of Dracula” in Downtown Akron on Halloween evening, Oct. 31.

The gloomy and foreboding weather was perfect for such a tale, except that it was so stormy the electricity went out in the downtown section of town around West Market and Bates streets an hour before the event was to be held — and threatened the performance, which took place in a former car dealership building.

The gathering crowd rolled with it, however, and those who had mobile phones with flashlight apps created enough light to keep the haunting-looking atmosphere going. Drinks still got served, people ate the array of finger foods and desserts, and musician Cody Nicolaus turned off his electronics and strolled around playing acoustic guitar, acting like an entertaining wandering minstrel. It was a nice way for him to handle the situation.

The atmosphere worked so well that someone a few days after the event confessed, since his party of dance attendees arrived later, that he thought the whole ambiance was the way it was supposed to be. He didn’t realize there was a problem until Neos Artistic Director and Choreographer Bobby Wesner announced from the stage the energetic, well-trained and disciplined dance troupe was going to wing it in the near dark — through the aid of his car’s head lamps and the audience’s cell phones.

Undaunted, Wesner opened wide a loading ramp door of the apex building where the event was held (a former Cadillac showroom at 118-122 W. Market St.), drove his automobile alongside the seating arranged for the dance event, and left on the lights, aiming them toward the makeshift stage.

He announced from the stage the show would go on, much to the happiness of the full house gathered to watch the performance.

Wesner joked he might need a jump-start for his battery after the show, but the performance would happen. Now that’s tough dance attitude. You have to love it.

He asked for 5 minutes so the dancers could get out of toe shoes and into something less dangerous on a darkened stage.

No sooner had he said that the lights came back on. And that’s good, too, for the event was dance based, but multi-media in setup. Upstage was a video screen that showed a film the entire time of the dance, with images of Dracula’s castle, the faces of the heroines and victims, and the theatrical (but highly imitative) setting of a dark and stormy night.

The music (arranged by Wesner) is critical to his version of the tale — a mixture of rock and roll, classical and industrial music that works phenomenally well with the story.

This version of the legend was created by Michael Thomas, an Emmy-award winning writer who worked on, among other things, the TV show “30 Rock” and for the Disney organization. The tale is ultimately comic in its outcome — hero Jonathan Harker (Wesner) yearns for his fiancé Mina (Jennifer Moll Safonovs) while traveling in the area where the dreaded Dracula lives. Dracula catches sight of Mina’s image, reminding him of his former beloved. He goes after the living Mina, but is thwarted by Jonathan and his friends, breaking all the spells and evil-doings of the malicious vampire. Dracula is defeated in the end and love and peace are restored.

Wesner’s choreography fits the tale superbly. The chorus — of first gypsies and later party guests — maintains the menacing nature of the plot on one hand and the insecurity of the unfolding action on the other. The dancers add dramatically to the mounting intensity of the story.

Wesner’s Jonathan and Safonovs’ Mina are wonderfully intense as lovers and threatened partners. Jose Edwin Gonzales, as Dracula, is amazingly athletic, menacing and charming — all at the same time — thereby embodying the dreaded Count Dracula with a larger-than-life quality.

Here’s hoping Neos Dance Theatre will be back with this production, less the weather conflicts, that is.

And they will, for Wesner has several plans in the works. In April 2014, Neos will bring its newest full-length ballet “Snow White and the Magic Mirror, a Grimm Tale” to town and plans for the show to be performed at The University of Akron’s (UA) E.J. Thomas Hall with students from the Dance Institute and dance students from UA. The company has other ventures planned with UA — the use of the Daum Theatre on campus for showcasing new repertoire next calendar year and the use of the state-of-the-art dance facilities at UA for developing new work.

Neos Dance Theatre’s presence in the community is something all dance lovers have to look forward to. Wesner is seeking a larger presence in Akron; here’s hoping it all works out.

 

Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and board director of the Dance Critics Association. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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