Stoke(er)d for Dance: World Premiere of Dracula at First State Ballet Theatre

First State Ballet Theatre presents Dracula

Since his career as a soloist began in 1987, Ukrainian-born Viktor Plotnikov has danced major roles in a wide variety of classical and contemporary ballets by many world-class choreographers, and has toured extensively in Russia and the US. In 1998, he began creating original works for international organizations and individuals, with musical taste ranging from Brahms to Pink Floyd, winning him national and global awards. He is a regular collaborator with Wilmington’s First State Ballet Theatre, with a new work under way.

Just in time for Halloween, FSBT will present a world premiere by Plotnikov: Dracula. It takes place at the baby grand from October 18 through 20. Based on the gothic novel by Irish author Bram Stoker, Dracula promises to intrigue and captivate the audience.

We spoke with Plotnikov about what goes into the making of a ballet…

What is the process for creating a ballet and what parts of that do you take the lead on?
Viktor Plotnikov:
It can be an idea of my own that I try to convey to a director, or I get commissioned to do work where I select the music and choreograph, or I’m commissioned to do a particular work set to particular music.

Usually it’s a commission. This particular work, I’m hired to do the actual story of Dracula.

I do big research on music in this case. If an original score isn’t written, you turn to composers and work with the theme.

We had to find different music: there are different bits and pieces in the ballet. It took me a long time to put together. It’s a collage, different composers, different pieces.

Tell us about the process.
Viktor: When I walk in, I have dancers, but we have zero steps. I show them what to do and they start moving. By the end of the day, we have two-and-a-half or three minutes of choreography. When we put steps to music, they can carry a narrative or just be a transitional moment.

The ballet changes little by little. I might not start in the beginning: for this ballet, I started in the middle of the first act.

In the next three days, I choreographed a partial amount of material, and then the next three days, I started in the middle of the second act.

Do you write detailed scenarios for each dance? Do you think of it as individual songs?
All music describes different feelings, and music is my way of expressing the story. I picture the story – what it is with the scenery – but I’m not absolutely certain how it will turn out. I need to experiment with the movement. Some of the movement takes longer than you can imagine.

Then you figure it out, overall. You picture it in your head all together. You get prepared, and determine which music stands for what. In this ballet, there’s “Mina’s Variation,” and there’s “Lucy’s Variation.”

Everything is written in a book, and everything is broken into scenes and transitions.

Who breaks the composition down into solo dances and duets and such?
When I have the first rehearsal, I play that music right away. I work out the solos and such way before I come to rehearsal.

I do my homework. I listen to it and listen to it and it’s all color coded in a book for me.

Tell us about some of the music.
Dracula features Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner and others. I picked composers from the beginning of the 20th Century; each is someone who represents the end of the 1800s into the 1900s.

Bruckner is more romantic, but he’s the father of styles that include a lot of wind and massive sounds. Later composers took from him. Beautiful works.

Who are your INfluences?
Plotnikov: Francis Ford Coppola’s work, his movies, his interpretation. [Coppola directed and produced the 1992 film of the same name.] I’m very visual as an artist. All dancers are, I assume. 

From when I was little, everything I see has been like a movie. Movies are short way to tell a story but they make my imagination vivid. I go from there and build my own thing.

I love the way Coppola told this story, his fantastic cast and the way it was played.

What is your favorite ballet?
It depends. 

One of the treasures of contemporary classical ballet is Onegin, by John Cranko – I find it absolutely stunning. 

Of the old classical ballet, Giselle is the one that touches me the most.

Contemporary ballet has so much variety, it’s hard to pinpoint. Jiří Kylián’s work is fodder for many, many styles. 

Pina Bausch, from Germany, she would be the mother of the contemporary stuff I like. It’s incredible what she did, and what was coming in Europe at that time.

In the classical category, some Balanchine work. His “Theme and Variations” is amazing.

What’s next for you?
I’m headed back to Boston. I work in Rhode Island at the Festival Ballet Providence. They will dance my creation of Carmen, which was the first ballet for which I was hired for choreography. I will go rehearse them for a week.

We understand that a particularly memorable entry into the 2009 Wilmington Fringe Festival was your original work. Wilmington photographer Joe del Tufo captured some iconic shots of the dancers working with red helium balloons…
Yes, that was Nonsense in the Sense of Innocence.

I always had a vivid imagination, even as a child. I would always be telling stories to my mom. My mother and father were fascinated, asking me, “How do you come up with all this stuff?”

It’s a little bit like reading the book in my head. This piece is me, part of my dreams. It has a lot of childhood memories and childish behavior and it’s a very strange overlap of different programs. 

On television, you see many layers. On the Discovery Channel, you might see the Serengeti desert. Another channel will show you UFOs and Area 51. Another will show you animal rescue. Another will show you the story of Pompeii. Many layered scenes at once and where they overlap.

[The DEArtsInfo blog recalls elements of this ballet as follows: “Music of Vivaldi, Beethoven and others was altered, and electronic blips, creating a foreboding theme, were wound into the familiar tunes. A long, flexible knit ‘dream’ cap on the dancer’s head, connecting her to the ceiling, wound a beautiful, stretchy blue/green thread.”]

We ask many of our interviewees this question: what music do you put on when your work day ends?
Viktor: Classic rock. I like all different types of music. I like pop, and I like a lot of 80s.

The 80s were the most experimental. There was a big jump in the electronic sound, so the combination of playing instruments and using electronics was fantastic. There was melody and a sense of also describing events. Then music became generic. In the 80s, we had variety; one hit completely stands apart from another.

I listen to classical and jazz and often put on a Cambridge station when I’m in Boston.

More about this collaboration and its origins:

First State Ballet Theatre has presented three major world premieres by Viktor Plotnikov—Everlasting Arms, based on the sculpture of Charles Parks, Nonsense in the Sense of innocence and The Adventures of Pinocchio.

Plotnikov’s Carmen, created in 2003 for Festival Ballet Providence (and performed in the recent past by FSBT), was his first full-length ballet followed by The Widow’s Broom, Loof and Let Dime, Viktorations, Bre, the critically acclaimed Coma, Cinderella, Atom, Sun Dust, and Surrender. From 2002 to 2005, he received rave reviews for his choreography and as co-director and co-producer of the choreographer’s showcase Raw Dance in collaboration with Boston Ballet and Boston Center for the Arts. He won Best Choreography awards at the 2005 Helsinki International Ballet Competition, the 2007 World Ballet Competition, Orlando, and the 2008 Ballet Competition in Perm, Russia, and the Outstanding Choreographer Award at the 2009 Youth American Grand Prix, among other awards.