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“A dress up freak fest”: Columbia City Ballet dancers lace up for Dracula; this year, the public is invited to join them

Sharpened fangs dripping with blood, writhing bare midriffs, and pulsating bass-driven music—although it hardly feels like a traditional ballet, these are some of the attention-grabbing aspects of Dracula: Ballet with a Bite.

This week, Columbia City Ballet brings their modernized version of Bram Stoker’s classic horror story to the Koger Center in a series of three performances.  “A lot of people think ballet is frolicking little girls running around in white tutus—it’s not,” said William Starrett, the executive director of Columbia City Ballet.  “It’s professional dancers with amazing physicality and dancing ability….Even though it’s based on classical movement, this is very fast-paced and very up to date.”

Starrett, who calls Dracula a “visual feast of excitement,” actually composed the ballet himself.  This year will be the company’s twenty-first performance of the ballet, which Starrett warns is “definitely not for children.”  The company has worked diligently to update the ballet, including modifying the dancers’ movement and even some of the music.  “I want to be on the cutting edge,” said Starrett.  “I don’t want it to even be like something from the 70s or 80s—I want it to be hip and current.”

dracula-2Principal dancer Regina Willougby plays the female lead Lucy.  “It’s one of my favorite roles to dance because it goes through so many different realms,” explained Willoughby.  Her character begins the play as a blissful, loving fiancé, who then sleepwalks and is captured and bitten by Dracula, driving her into madness.  Starrett and Willoughby noted that each year, audiences have enjoyed the variety of atmosphere dances, some very sensual, some very haunting, and some very vibrant and exciting.

Following Friday night’s performance, Columbia City Ballet will host an event close by the Koger Center called “Dracula: Gala with a Bite,” at the Darla Moore School of Business pavilion.  It is the first time the company will host such an event, which will feature live music from the Reggie Sullivan Band as well as a silent auction, a bar, and catered food.  Although the goal of the gala is to raise money for costumes, sets, and other production costs, the company hopes it can also provide a thrilling setting for ballet-goers to gather after the performance.  “It’s going to be magical—the premise is that Count Dracula is throwing a party at his castle, and you’re invited,” explained Starrett.

The spooky gala will take place amidst scenery designed to look like Dracula’s castle, graveyard, and dining room—thus provoking the dress code of “black tie optional, or costume.”  “We want it to be very formal, and just a dress-up freak fest,” said Starrett.  “We want people to come in costumes, watch the ballet, and keep partying throughout the night.”

Willoughby believes Dracula: Ballet with a Bite is the ideal performance for someone to see who has never been to a ballet before.  “It’s a familiar story, and the music is very upbeat.  The costumes are a little more provocative,” she explained.  “Ballet is so just so awesome.  It brings the physicality of the human body together with artistry and the emotional side of our souls like nothing else could do.”

dracula-3Apart from the ghoulish thrills of a classic Halloween tale, the quality of dancers in Columbia City Ballet is expected to thrill the audience.  “People who have never seen a ballet would be really surprised at the high standard and professionalism of a local production,” Starrett remarked.  “A lot of people think we come in from New York or Boston or something—they’re blown away by the precision and physicality of the dancers.”

For Willoughby, she and her fellow dancers have been rehearsing relentlessly every day to prepare for this weekend’s performances.  This year, the ballet has new revisions and also six additional cast members.  “We’ve been making sure the little details are there as far as the acting goes and the transitions between the steps, just making sure that we are telling the story well,” she said. That’s really what’s most important—it’s about our artistry, and what we are making the audience feel.”

Opening night of Dracula begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Koger Center, with a special student discount price of $11 per ticket.  The ballet will also be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Koger Center, with the gala immediately following the event across the street at the business school.  Ticket sales and more information is available online at www.kogercenterforthearts.com.

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