Count Dracula lands at Bass Hall in Texas Ballet Theater’s season opener
Dracula springs back to life in Texas Ballet Theater’s Fort Worth season opener.
Ballet legend Ben Stevenson choreographed a stage production of the beloved, blood-curdling tale in 1997 — exactly 100 years after Bram Stoker published his seminal novel. The titular role was tailor-made for dancer Tim O’Keefe when both men were at the Houston Ballet. Stevenson’s production has been performed all over the world, and O’Keefe said it’s only fitting that he kicks off his inaugural season as Texas Ballet Theater’s artistic director with this show.
“Ben is a wonderful storyteller, a wonderful choreographer,” O’Keefe said. “I had already worked with him around 17 years when he created the role of Dracula. … When you’ve worked together that long, the creative process is even more rewarding.”
If you go
What: Performances of “Dracula”
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 6
2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 7
2 p.m. Oct. 8
Where: Bass Performance Hall, 525 Commerce St., Fort Worth
Tickets: $20 and up. Find seats and additional information here.
The pair continued to work together after leaving Houston, with O’Keefe joining Texas Ballet Theater in 2002 and Stevenson following in 2003.
After Stevenson was named the company’s artistic director laureate in 2022, O’Keefe filled in as artistic director before officially taking over the role in 2023.
Principal dancer Alexander Kotelenets, nicknamed “Sasha,” admires both men and grew up watching O’Keefe perform in Houston. Being able to step into his idol’s shoes is both an honor and a challenge, he said.
“Tim must have been in incredible, incredible shape for Ben to choreograph this for him because it is so hard,” Kotelenets said. “It is so physically demanding that I actually have fear standing before the curtain … knowing what’s about to happen.”
“This is not a happy peasant,” O’Keefe added, referring to the complexity of the role. The show spans three acts, with two intermissions, as the dancers traverse the crypt beneath Dracula’s castle, a nearby village and the vampire’s bedroom.
Dracula travels across the stage with intensity in every movement, whether that is in the way he runs, leaps or scowls at the other dancers. Plus, he must wield a 30-pound, 33-foot-wide cape without letting it weigh his artistic expressions down.
“We don’t have words (in ballet), so we have to use our bodies in different ways,” O’Keefe said.
As a self-described joker, Kotelenets said the dark energy Dracula requires does not come naturally, but the music helps propel him into character as the melodies and movements sync up perfectly.
“I’ve had times where it was hard for me to do some rehearsals because you’re tired, you’re exhausted, you’ve run through it, you don’t want to do it again,” he said. “But every time you hear that music, it’s phenomenal. It just sort of takes me into character.”
For Kotelenets, it was directors like Stevenson who helped him mature as a young dancer and learn how to better use movement to tell a story.
“I admire how Ben spent a lot of time and years and hours pulling this thing out of me, making it more into an art form rather than just a joke,” he said. “You can’t just do tricks for three hours onstage. You have to captivate your audience and take them on a journey so good that they go home and are inspired by the art form. So, I’m just thankful to be a part of this team.”
O’Keefe also expressed gratitude for the team, noting that this is a full-circle moment for him.
“Ben gives us ideas, and then he’s very good about letting you experiment with that. … He wants you to run with it,” he said. “And Sasha (Kotelenets) is doing things that I never even thought about. I mean, it’s so cool to see the role keep evolving.”
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.