Dayton Ballet Presents ‘Casanova’ And ‘Eve Of Frankenstein’

'Casanova' Cast Leaps In Unison. Photo By sskphoto 'Casanova' Cast Leaps In Unison. Photo By sskphoto

Seductive Double Pleasure

By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

'Casanova' Cast Leaps In Unison. Photo By sskphoto

It’s not often that people pair together a green monster and a romantic love story. But then again, how many ogre-like creatures do you know?  Let’s not short-change the possibilities, huh?  At least, that’s the thought behind Dayton Ballet’s season opening show, Casanova and Eve of Frankenstein, a debut for not only two brand-new pieces, but a forum for questions to be raised about humanity, relationships and second chances. The show, which will open at the Victoria Theatre Thursday, October 28 and continue through Sunday, October 31, spotlights choreography by Jeffrey Graham Hughes and Karen Russo Burke. “I really enjoy working with the dancers because of the positive energy they have all the time,” said Annalise Woller, a first-year company member, of her work on the pieces. “They’re not waiting for the performance to pull it out. It helps to push the envelope.”  Knocking it out of the park is made more simple, Casanova choreographer Jeffrey Graham Hughes said, as a result of the dancers’ consistency and willingness to put forth the effort. “There’s a nice flow to their work,” said Hughes of working with the dancers for Casanova, his eighth ballet with the company. “The dancers don’t need to be taken by the hand and told what to do. It’s a much more spontaneous and reciprocal kind of arrangement which left a lot of room for me to work with them (in the studio).”  Casanova is a physical and retrospective ballet about romance and regrets set to the story of one of history’s most notorious playboys, Giacomo Casanova. The ballet will feature Casanova during his early, youthful years, and leading to a more contemplative viewpoint as he ages and looks back on his life.  Hughes laughed as he recalled how he happened to choose the storyline for the ballet. After hearing from Dayton Ballet artistic director Dermot Burke that he would like him to choreograph a new piece for the company, Hughes said he told his wife and she wistfully said, “Oh, Casanova …”  Thinking she was referring to him, he smiled.  But she quickly corrected him with a laugh and said, “No, not you … Casanova,” referring instead to the timeless romantic story.  Hughes (and his slightly bruised ego) saw the opportunity and jumped on it, pushing forward with the creation of Casanova as a ballet.  “I like Jeff’s energy and passion to correctly portray not only Casanova’s life, but the time period,” dancer Erica Lehman-Downey said of working with Hughes.  “He pushes us to a new level of our artistry.”  “And he’s finicky with our technique, which is a good thing,” she said, laughing.  Justin Koertgen, who is in his 10th season with Dayton Ballet, said one of the highlights of learning Casanova is working with Burke within a different capacity in the studio. Burke will be playing the role of the older version of Casanova where he will be on stage for quite a bit of time, including the multiple pas de deux he will perform with each of the cast’s female members.  “It’s fun having him as one of us instead of at the front of the room,” Koertgen said of Burke. “The amount of acting he brings to a role and the emotion … it’s amazing he still finds the physicality to do it.”  Hughes said he couldn’t agree more: “Dermot is charismatic on stage,” he said. “I thought, ‘take advantage of it!’”  Leaning on the talented ability within the company is something Hughes said he has enjoyed throughout the duration of choreographing Casanova.  “The end product is what you drive for, but the process is what you spend time on,” he said. “We want to make that as artistically gratifying as possible.”  Karen Russo Burke said the process of watching Hughes in the studio has been extremely gratifying, one which she especially likens to terms like “growth” and “opportunity.”  “I like to watch the dancers work with someone else,” Russo Burke said. “It’s kind of like when you are with someone all the time, and then you leave him, and when you see him again you could swear they’ve grown.”  Russo Burke’s energy for that forward movement translates directly into her ballet Eve of Frankenstein, which draws upon the question: What if Frankenstein were a woman?  Burke said she chose the viewpoint after her son kept pushing her to cast a ballet based on the Mary Shelley book, Frankenstein.  “(At first), I could not wrap my hands around it,” Russo Burke said. But after watching some of the older movies and joining the concept with thoughts from her daughter, who was studying Mary Shelley at the time, Russo Burke came up with the idea of making Frankenstein a woman. “We consider this ballet the prologue to Frankenstein,” said Russo Burke, explaining that much of her version of the monster was based on the struggles she learned Mary Shelley faced in her personal life, including death and the deep questions that followed about who decided to take away a life. Russo Burke said she also decided to do away with the green monster popular culture has come to know as “Frankenstein” and instead lean on Shelley’s original storyline, where the creator of the monster is Dr. Frankenstein and his creature is instead just known as the monster he constructs. In Russo Burke’s story, Dr. Frankenstein sets upon inventing the creature in an effort to save his daughter, Eve, from her ailing health. “It’s a challenging role, emotionally and physically,” dancer Erika Cole said of playing the part of Eve. “You have to have the stamina to be able to physically do it as well as project the emotions of the character.”  Cole said the role is especially demanding because of its requirement to display emotional and physical attributes that lie at opposite ends of the spectrum. “Eve goes from a happy and pretty woman to this angry and ugly monster,” Cole explained of the variations within the role. “It’s interesting.”  Russo Burke said she drew on the strong differences of human characteristics as an attempt to show the black and white aspects that lie within everyone’s personality. The balance to the stringent viewpoints, she said, came from the inclusion of children in the ballet. “I wanted to include children because of their lack of pre-judgment,” Russo Burke said. “They accept Eve for who she is … it’s kind of like the saying, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’ We put up guards (as adults) when we walk down the street. Children don’t do that.”  Cole said the children’s innocence helped bring a new aspect to her understanding of her character, in addition to a general enjoyment during her time learning the piece. “It’s so great to be able to work with the kids in something other than The Nutcracker,” Cole said of the opportunity to work with the children in a new capacity.  True to Russo Burke’s form, Eve of Frankenstein is bound to thrill audiences’ Halloween weekend experience. And that adventure, Hughes said, of bunching a group of talented individuals and tossing them into a studio, is made better by the quality of creativity that each of the Dayton Ballet members brings forth to the process. “We’re working together and I like that,” he said. “It’s much more than a creative process. It’s a luxury.”

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