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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the October 22, 2003

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

The Roxey Ballet Cozies Up to the Undead

We may never know how or why fearsome fantasies such

as the blood-thirsty Count Dracula exert their irresistible attraction

on mere mortals. But America’s ballet companies don’t need to know.

Like a welcome infusion of warm, fresh blood, "Dracula" is

proving a sure cure for the anemic fortunes of regional companies

across the nation.

Roxey Ballet of Lambertville is the latest to weigh in with a vivid

new adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel — a best-seller

since its publication in 1897. Just in time for the Halloween season,

the company will premiere Mark Roxey’s "Dracula" at the Villa

Victoria Theater in West Trenton on Friday and Saturday, October 24

and 25. The two-act ballet features the choreographer in the role

of the evil and charismatic Count Dracula, with Audra Johnson as the

beautiful Lucy and Sharon Rudda as the doomed Mina.

Also featured in the professional cast are Josie Johnson, Heather

Kelly-Searfoorce, and Alexandra Redelico as Dracula’s wives, with

Demetrius King as Renfield, Marcos Medina as Harker, Roger

Walden-Oliveira

as Dr. Seward, Leland Schwantes as the old Dr. Van Helsing. Christine

McDowell, Kevin Reynolds, and Annette Redelico complete the cast with

Karina Casey at the Lost Child.

"I don’t want to say that `Dracula’ is more than just a

ballet, because ballet is awesome," says Mark Roxey, in an

interview

from his company’s Lambertville studios. "In this fast-paced world

we live in people overlook ballet in many arenas because ballet does

not deliver what people are interested in. Too many people think that

ballet is all just tutus. But the Dracula story has been around for

over 100 years and this is the type of story that offers people a

chance to come to the ballet and experience dramatic dance with a

story they can really bite into."

Roxey, who as a dancer is a veteran of several "Dracula"

productions,

says his goal for the evening is to offer an elegant, dark drama of

love, blood lust, loss, and redemption. "It’s a very sensual

dramatic

love story about good conquering evil and the power of the cross —

that’s what draws people to it," he says. "It has such wide

appeal. After all, `Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ has become a cult

classic.

It’s incredible."

There is no record of the first sighting of the walking Undead —

or Nosferatu — but in the Balkans, during the 18th century, they

became epidemic. The panic attracted the curiosity of a German scholar

who wrote the first major vampire treatise, and the Romantic poets

soon lured the mythic bloodsucker into their literary realm. By the

close of the 19th century, the vampire had appeared in dozens of tales

and many disguises.

For over 100 years now, Count Dracula has cast his spell on readers

and audiences alike. The first staged reading took place during Bram

Stoker’s time at the Lyceum Theater in London, and was revived in

New York in 1927. The prolific author Anne Rice has had a lot to do

with the story’s popularity in the late 20th century. And by 1992

Francis Ford Coppola’s "Bram Stoker’s Dracula" was breaking

box office records.

Roxey’s dramatic ballet in two acts is performed by

a professional cast of 12. Sets are by Lisa McMillian, with sets and

lighting by Tom Rowe, video art and sound design by David Hanneman,

and costumes by Nilda Jones. Following the Friday night performance,

a costume party and reception will be held backstage at the theater

at 9 p.m. Attendees will have the opportunity to meet the cast of

Dracula as well as the Roxey Ballet Company’s board of directors.

Bloody Marys and hors d’oeuvres will be served with prizes for the

best costumes. The cost to attend is $30 per person.

Roxey says his ballet follows Bram Stoker’s story very closely, which

means it does have adult subject matter. Although it can be considered

something of a family show, no one under age five will be admitted.

One manifestation of how scarily effective Roxey has made his ballet

is the difficulty he experienced casting the role of the lost child

who is Lucy’s first victim. "Three children wanted to do it, but

halfway through it became too scary," he says. However, the young

Karina Casey overcame the jitters and will dance the role.

Mark and Melissa Roxey, professional dancers who have known each other

since they were teen-aged classmates at the Joffrey Ballet School,

co-founded the Roxey Ballet Company in 1995 and the Mill Ballet School

the following year. Mark is the company’s executive director and

Melissa

is director of the school, and they are parents of a young son,

Benjamin.

Both Roxeys left the stage in their prime years to create their own

school and company. Roxey Ballet currently has nine professional

dancers

contracted for 30 weeks. Since founding the company, Mark has

choreographed

an astonishing number of works. Among the works now in repertory are

his full-length "Nutcracker," "Cinderella," and

"The

Pied Piper of Hamlin."

Mark began his training at the Joffrey Ballet in New York and went

on to dance professionally with the Joffrey. He then joined the

American

Repertory Ballet and Dayton Ballet as a principal dancer, where he

danced in works choreographed by George Balanchine, Paul Taylor, Jose

Limon, Alvin Ailey, Maurice Petipa, and others. He has served on the

faculty of schools that include Princeton Ballet, Dayton Ballet, and

Wright State University.

Like companies across America, Roxey says his motivation for staging

the ballet is to draw more non-balletgoers to the art form. He knows

its popularity from first-hand experience.

Mark Roxey was featured as Count Dracula in Stuart Sebastian’s

"Dracula"

with American Repertory Ballet for several seasons. He has also

performed

Ben Stevenson’s version and one created by Michael Pick for the

Atlanta

Ballet.

Ben Stevenson created his "Dracula" ballet for the Houston

Ballet and Pittsburgh Ballet in 1997 where it has become a staple

October offering. The Pennsylvania Ballet, which first performed

Stevenson’s

"Dracula" in 2000, dances Stevenson’s version October 30 to

November 8 at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.

Yet unlike codified, traditional ballets such as "The

Nutcracker,"

today’s "Draculas" are as various and individual as their

choreographers. Like Roxey, most choreographers create their own

scores

with scary sound effects and favorite fragments of evocative music.

Roxey found various kinds of music to match mood and action, from

Philip Glass to film scores, and also commissioned original music

that he like

Using the latest high-technology along with dance, the production

will feature an array of special effects, flying effects, sound

effects,

weather effects, video projection and animation. "The whole

production

is a very intense experience," he says. "It’s total theater

— definitely an unusual ballet experience."

— Nicole Plett

Dracula, Roxey Ballet, Villa Victoria Theater, Route

29, West Trenton, 609-397-7616. $26.50; $23.50 children, seniors,

and disabled. Friday and Saturday, October 24 and 25, 7 p.m.


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