Ballet Victoria brings Frankenstein to life

What: Ballet Victoria presents Frankenstein: A Zombie Love Story

When: Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.

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Where: McPherson Playhouse

Tickets: $14 to $63 (including discounts for children, students and seniors) at rmts.bc.ca and 250-386-6121

Ballet Victoria artistic director Paul Destrooper can probably relate to the mad-scientist story of Frankenstein in a way others cannot.

The creator of the company’s latest original work, which makes its Victoria debut Friday, has developed a trademark for mixing music, styles and storylines that may make the traditionally inclined uncomfortable. But for Destrooper, it’s a way to distinguish the work of the local company, as well as appealing to as many people as possible.

“It is using a medium that is ballet, which is traditional and has been around for a long time, but it’s giving it life, it’s making it accessible and contemporary,” he said this week.

In 2011’s Ballet Rocks, he blended the psychedelic rock of Pink Floyd with classical ballet. In 2012’s Ballet Off Broadway, he asked principal dancer Andrea Bayne to not just dance, but sing on stage (which she will do again this weekend). And in this season’s debut, Destrooper is mixing monster stories with a classic ballet, as well as musical styles that you may not consider natural fits.

While the backbone of the ballet is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the story of a scientist who creates a monster through unconventional experiments, Destrooper said audiences will recognize a few other familiar monsters. From the tango-dancing scientist’s wife, who draws a few characteristics from Morticia Addams, to references to The Bride of Frankenstein and The Corpse Bride — Ballet Victoria’s Frankenstein is a hybrid creature in its own right.

Destrooper even identifies traditional repertoire with the Halloween theme.

“For the second act, I actually chose to go with the ‘original zombie ballet,’ which you could say, is Giselle.” Giselle tells the story of a woman who dies of a broken heart and is roused from her grave. While Ballet Victoria sticks with the original choreography for the traditional variations and pas de deux, Destrooper is also weaving in contemporary sections.

“What it does is challenges the dancers in the highest classical technique and also makes it a little more accessible for everyone,” he said.

The musical score ranges from Adolphe Adam’s songs from Giselle to classical musicians like Verdi and Shostakovich to ambient soundscapes, and even a tango and a cha-cha.

“It’s going to be quite funky,” Destrooper said. “It’s almost like building a soundtrack for a film.”

Frankenstein is the first ballet of the season for the company, which has nine members this year. Despite a formula Destrooper said is popular with audiences, the company struggles to break even. From his perspective, it’s because public funding for dance projects more often goes toward avant-garde and abstract works.

“Sometimes when you choose to do works that are popular, you’re accused of being populist — which is funny because what we do, no one else is doing,” Destrooper said.

Dance companies these days are more preoccupied with gymnastics rather than theatricality, he said.

“Very few people are still creating story ballets,” he said. “To reach across not just to different cultures but to different generations, it has to make sense. But that’s something that isn’t valued as much as it should be.”

asmart@timescolonist.com

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