Kim’s dark irises followed Malinkine’s trailing fingers, and the resulting sidelong glance conveyed fear, longing and unease. His eyes weren’t windows on an evil bloodsucker but on a tortured soul. That’s because Dracula, in this ballet choreographed by Michael Pink, is a complex protagonist rather than a one-dimensional villain. The story is tightly adapted from Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel about love, lust and Victorian propriety. As a result, the ballet’s characters are more complex than in most story ballets.
“There are so many themes and so many layers to work on,” Malinkine said. “For us, it is an exploration of the characters.”
He rattled off a list of the characters — Mina, Lucy, Harker, Renfield — characters you may not know even if you’ve seen one of the many film adaptations. But in the ballet, the title role belongs to Malinkine. In 1996, he danced Dracula when Pink debuted the ballet with England’s Northern Ballet Theatre. The production ran for 13 weeks in London, and Malinkine became something of a sex symbol, with fans waiting at stage doors.
In the nearly two decades since, Pink’s “Dracula” has been performed across Europe, New Zealand and Australia. In the States, the ballet has been staged in Atlanta, Denver, Indianapolis and Milwaukee, where Pink now directs the Milwaukee Ballet.
Malinkine, a lithe, 46-year-old Russian emigre, recalls being nervous when Pink told him about the role. “When he first said to me, ‘You are going to do Dracula,’ I wasn’t sure what to think. What was I going to do? Run around stage biting people? That would have been comical, in a way. But we have managed to overcome that.”
The secret, Pink said, speaking from Wisconsin recently, was to remain faithful to the novel. “We knew from the very beginning [that we had to] maintain the integrity of the book. . . . It has captured the imagination of generation after generation. We wanted to stay with it, otherwise we would veer off into the silliness of B movies, with fangs and heaving breasts.”
Pink wanted his “Dracula” to be serious theater. There are other vampire-themed ballets floating around, slinking onto stages each October. Some feature a corps of scantily clad vampire brides. Pink is fond of Mark Godden’s version for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet but thinks the others are rather schlocky.