— In the end, it all came down to love.Polish-born Dracula choreographer Krzysztof Pastor is not usually in the habit of creating ballets based on such a commercial subject as vampires, but a passionate love story enduring through the ages proved an irresistible concept.It was pitched to him in 2017 by West Australian Ballet(WAB) Artistic Director Aurélien Scannella, as a co-production between WAB and QB, and his first reaction was hesitant at best.
“Honestly, I can’t say I was a great fan of vampires – I hadn’t read Bram Stoker’s novel, I didn’t see (Francis Ford) Coppola’s movie, and I was reluctant to do a commercial subject, however, that proved to be a mistake because Dracula – I enjoyed creating it very much,” he says.
We’re chatting via Zoom on a Wednesday evening (early morning in Warsaw, Poland, where Krzysztof lives), and despite the distance it’s clear just how much he enjoyed it. With a huge repertoire of work behind him – notably In Light and Shadow(2000); Tristan (2006); The Tempest (2014); and Casanova inWarsaw (2015), and a lifetime as a dancer, choreographer and ballet director – most recently of the Polish National Ballet, it seems that choreographing Dracula was a surprisingly novel experience.
He found inspiration in the music by Polish composer Woljciech Kilar, a highly respected symphonic composer who had also delved into the film with his score for Francis FordCoppola’s Dracula, as well as the dark, supernatural storyline.“I wanted to make a piece about love, basically,” Krzysztof says, with the undercurrent of a smile.
“It’s about a passion which is so incredible that it hurts, it guides this Dracula to be a cruel murderer, you know? But on the other hand, a few hundred years later, he’s still in love with this Elizabeth and he’s so much in love that he doesn’t want her to become like him. So it’s the strength of love that is important– it’s so passionate.”
WAB premiered Dracula in Perth in 2018 to rave reviews and a popularity he found unexpected. ‘Bewitching’, ‘deliciously gothic’, ‘sensual’, and a ‘visual feast’ were just a few of the descriptions thrown around by adoring audiences.
He spent eight weeks choreographing with the company to get the production stage-ready, and he says the process was a little different to usual.
“The dancers in Poland – in my company, I know them pretty well, which has pluses and minuses. There’s a risk because you know the dancer so you tend to go down one track a little bit, but in the case of Dracula, I was working with the company for the first time,” he recalls.
“It was a bit of a gamble you know…but it starts to work together somehow. I don’t prepare the choreography beforehand in terms of steps – it happens in the studio when we work together, and I must say in Perth I was very happy with the dancers. It was a very creative process and so inspiring, so it was nice.”
He also worked closely with the scenery and costume designers Phil R. Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith, and lighting designer Jon Buswell – people and elements he describes as essential to the production.
However, it has been the audience reactions that have been the most satisfying part of the Dracula journey.“
I started choreography in Holland, in Amsterdam with the Dutch National Ballet and there it’s a very sort of purist approach – that dance is dance and it has to be pure, and it has to be on some deep, deep subject,” he muses.
“But you know, in the end, Dracula is quite deep because it’s about this eternal love. When I began working with my friend Pawel Chynowski who wrote the libretto he wanted to go ahead with a sort of grotesque version and I said ‘absolutely not’…I wanted serious, beautiful duets, because it’s about love, it’s about passion, it’s about being lost in a psychotic drama.“
So for me, it was a surprise that I enjoyed it so much, and when I read the reactions of the public – I see it’s an enjoyable performance and they feel the passion, and I’m happy.”