Monday, February 24, 2014

First State Ballet Theatre Unveils a Killer Production in Irene

The World Premiere of Irene, written and composed by Shaun Dougherty and choreographed by Alex Buckner, lived up to expectations (I can honestly say it exceeded mine, and I'm pretty picky when it comes to the vampire genre in general). It's too bad that the production was a one-night-only event. It's the kind of production that needs word-of-mouth and general buzz to draw people who might not ordinarily spend an evening at the ballet, but who would undoubtedly love this show. 

Vampires and ballet go together uncannily well -- there's something about the grace, the fluid movements, and charisma ballet can offer that makes it work really, really well. And with its impeccable choreography, the most violent moments of Irene capture the horror, without even a drop of blood.

The atmospheric, dark score blends classical and contemporary music; the 9-piece orchestra, led by Conductor Clint Williams, is dominated by strings, with Dougherty on electric guitar. This is not what I would call a rock 'n roll ballet any more than it's a traditional one -- but the modern, electric bass and guitar elements give it an edge that fits the gothic style of the story.

Thought it has twists, the story is straightforward enough to follow easily, even for those not accustomed to watching stories told in dance (the beautiful costumes by Joanne Epstein, Traci Eizember and Paige Obara also help keep the characters straight). Emily Shenaut plays Irene, a young ballerina who finds that the prestigious ballet company she's been accepted into is, in fact, a company of vampires, led by Malekeh (Mary Kate Reynolds) and Liam (Leonid Goykhman), with a pair of vampire henchmen lovers, Lily and James (Aubrey Clemens and Jake Nowicki), stalking her throughout as she tries to escape the nightmare Though there is a goth-romantic feel to the story, the vampires are clearly monsters, despite their graceful beauty, and the vampire killings, of which there are several, are so horrific that Irene attempts suicide after witnessing them. Seemingly less monstrous is Maeve (Rie Aoki), Makela's apprentice, who portrays an more innocent and kind spirit -- but are her intentions really to help Irene?

Through all of this is a love story between Irene and her boyfriend Ethan (Justin Estelle), who spends most of the story trying to protect or save Irene from the vampires. The audience knows a little more about Ethan than Irene does (I almost wished we didn't), and their arc carries through from beginning to end.

Here's hoping that Irene comes back in future seasons.

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