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Local choreographer sinks teeth into Dracula

Fort Wayne Ballet stages full-length production of horror classic


Michele DeVinney

Whatzup Features Writer

Published October 21, 2020

For decades, Fort Wayne Ballet has established its reputation on the strength of its beloved traditions.

Each holiday season offers The Nutcracker, and every spring provides one of their story ballets, everything from Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella to Romeo & Juliet and Swan Lake.

In recent years, the fall performance has become an opportunity to brag of its relationship with the Joffrey Ballet and the Arpino Trust, one which has allowed Fort Wayne Ballet to perform pieces not often seen outside of Chicago or New York.

Enjoying the challenge

But this fall something special is coming, something which marks a new turn in the history of Fort Wayne Ballet.

Instead of relying on pieces from iconic choreographers and foundations, the company is tackling a world premiere piece choreographed by one of their own.

A long-time faculty member and now ballet mistress and director of outreach, Wisconsin native Tracy Tritz came to Fort Wayne Ballet from Chicago and was a dancer and teacher for several years.

But it was her talent in choreography that made Karen Gibbons-Brown, artistic director of FWB, consider taking a bold step in planning the fall 2020 performance.

“About two years ago, I had been looking at some versions of Dracula that other companies had done,” Gibbons-Brown said. “I needed something that fit right with our company. … It had to be the right technical repertoire, it had to be the right number of dancers. If it called for 65 dancers, that was obviously going to be too many for our professional corps.

“Then it occurred to me that we have a lovely resident choreographer right here in Tracy Tritz, and I thought she might enjoy the challenge.”

Iconic literature

“Karen asked me if I’d be interested in choreographing a full-length version of Dracula, and very clearly I was,” Tritz said. “Everything about it appealed to me. It’s such a great piece of literature and so iconic.

“I knew I wanted to work from the original book rather than the movies, so everything comes from that. It had been a while since I’d read it, so I reread it immediately. It took a couple of rereads actually because just like making a film, you can’t use everything in the book. I had to go through and see what parts I could use and which parts I could leave out without undermining the integrity of Bram Stoker’s original story.”

As daunting as that may sound, Tritz had another huge challenge in preparing to choreograph.

“My parallel job then was to look for music, which proved to be an arduous task,” Tritz said. “I knew I wanted to use a single composer, so I had to find someone with a lot of material and varied material to work in different situations.”

Tritz found that composer in Alfred Schnittke, a 20th century German-Soviet composer who had actually crossed Tritz’s mind shortly before her first conversation with Gibbons-Brown about Dracula.

“I had been thinking that I’d like to use his music sometime, and that was before I knew anything about Dracula. So it just seemed like it was meant to be.”

Tritz also worked extensively with Nan Possemato, Fort Wayne Ballet’s costume mistress, to make sure the look of the costumes, makeup, props, and set worked for the mood she was creating through music and dance.

Then the lockdown

Things were moving along nicely for an early October world premiere when the lockdown changed things dramatically. Did that extra time help or hurt in Tritz’s preparation?

“Both actually,” Tritz said. “We had originally planned to start Dracula rehearsals as soon as we were done with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. None of that happened.

“I was still working on the choreography, and obviously I had no idea which dancers would be here in the fall and which ones wouldn’t, so I’d have been working with dancers that might or might not have been in the final cast. I used that time to spend more time with the book, work on set pieces, and talk with a lighting designer. So in some ways it was both a help and a hindrance.”

With the ballet back on track in late August, rehearsals commenced with a new date for production.

By switching their more intimate set of pieces, Diversions, to the first weekend of October and moving Dracula to the very appropriate Halloween weekend, Tritz and her company of dancers were able to invest that time to make Dracula a reality.

“I’m excited to see it,” Tritz said. “It’s my first time doing a full-length ballet since I usually do shorter pieces. I’m looking forward to seeing the music, sets, costumes, and choreography come together.”

Gibbons-Brown is also happy for the dancers who will get to experience something very special.

“World premieres are exciting, especially for the dancers who get to work with a piece that was created for them,” she said. “I know from being a dancer that it was also more exciting to have a piece created for me than to just recreate something from someone else.

“I do want to make it clear though that this is not a ballet for children. We have Snow White as part of our Family Series that weekend, but Dracula is for adults. It is a very grownup show.”

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