Vampires and Fire Starters 

The Crucible offers a new take on the origin of Dracula.

The Crucible is known for taking liberties with its ballet productions, incorporating heavy industrial set pieces and contemporary dance idioms into baroque, canonical source material. A 2004 production of the opera Dido & Aneas stayed fairly close to the original Greek myth, but also called attention to the mechanics of its presentation by bringing glassblowers and welders onstage (they were supposed to represent the workforce in Carthage). Seven Deadly Sins, staged in 2006, featured dancers from Harlem Shake Burlesque with flames shooting from their bikini tops. A 2007 performance of Romeo and Juliet incorporated flaming chandeliers, bedside candles that would erupt like Zippo lighters, and performances by the Flavor Group breakdancers, who also appeared in a subsequent production of Stravinsky's Firebird. (In that play the title character made her second entrance from a slick Pontiac Firebird). This year director Michael Sturtz offers an even bolder innovation: a prequel to every vampire story that ever existed. Called Dracul: Prince of Fire, this contemporary Gothic tale may be just the right antidote to all those Nutcracker ballets and saccharine, candy-cane affairs that normally flood the holiday season. It's creepy, dark, bloody, campy, laden with sex and violence, and above all, fiery.

Conceptually, Dracul is the story of Dracula's father and an exploration of how the vampire legend came into effect. But it's also a wink-wink, nudge-nudge kinda show (Rocky Horror's Brad and Janet, and Lady Buffy Van Helsing appear right alongside Dracul and the VampFatales) that's ultimately geared toward spectacle. The cast comprises five aerialists (including the male lead), six ballet dancers, a gymnast, some contortionists, and several industrial artists from the Crucible. The whole set weighs about ten tons, according to Sturtz, and includes a giant spiked wheel; a fire fountain that belches water and steam, as well as flame; cement dragons that are carved into the stage; and, best of all, a nineteen-foot, six-thousand-pound metal dragon that artist Gabe Zamato has apparently been developing for thirty years. Sturtz said that this show, in particular, foregrounds the Crucible's industrial craftsmen, rather than relegating them to a corner of the stage or concealing them behind a backdrop. The dragon, for instance, has three different people controlling it: a forklift driver, a fire movement controller, and someone inside operating head, jaw, and neck movements, as well as the fog machine. "We have devoted a radio channel for dragon communication," Sturtz said. "We like the fact that you can see someone inside the dragon sorta moving around." That's something you will never see in a standard Tchaikovsky ballet.

Dracul: Prince of Fire runs January 7 through 10 and 14 through 17 at the Crucible (1260 7th St., Oakland). Shows nightly at 8:30 p.m. $35-$65. $150 for January 17 gala finale.

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