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"Dracula' ballet trips a little around finer moments

Quite a few people in the audience came in costume to Dracula Friday night at Mahaffey Theater. Ghostly white-painted faces, '60s hippies wearing headbands, a pith-helmeted lion tamer, a caped crusader or two _ the Halloween show in the lobby was almost as interesting as the one onstage.

Bram Stoker's bloody old thriller-diller was done to a kitschy turn by the fledgling Ballet Theatre International, with artistic director Christopher Fleming's choreography of the score by David Goldstein making its third annual appearance at Mahaffey.

For dance theater on a shoestring, Dracula wasn't bad, with striking lighting effects and serviceable scenery, but the cavernous Mahaffey can be unforgiving, like the black hole that swallowed ballet. With about 20 dancers, the stage seemed underpopulated.

Elena Martinson, as the heroine who falls under the spell of Dracula, is a ballerina well worth watching, all willowy limbs and impossibly fine posture. The pas de deux by her and the Count (Andrei Ustinov) that brought down the first act curtain was sublime.

Peggy Petteway made a suitably wenchy Queen of the Un-Dead Virgins, but the rest of the supporting cast lacked distinction. To some extent, they were undone by Fleming's choreographic decisions, which often called for deft pantomime where dance might have done just as well. It's the rare ballet troupe that can act as well it dances.

In the end, Fleming's choreographic language didn't seem up to the task of telling the story of Transylvania's favorite son. There were stretches of narrative incoherence, leading to a finale in which good triumphs over evil in an abrupt plot twist whose illogic even a hail of silver bullets couldn't cover up. Perhaps the problem was the music. Goldstein's synthesizer score began to feel oppressive over the course of a full-length ballet.

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