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High-flying 'Dracula' takes terror to new heights in Sands Point

PUSH Physical Theatre retells the classic tale through dance inspired by Bram Stoker's 1897 novel.

PUSH Physical Theatre artistic director Darren Stevenson portrays

PUSH Physical Theatre artistic director Darren Stevenson portrays Count Dracula in the acrobatic adaption. Photo Credit: Dave Weisbrod

Like any Dracula production worth its fangs, the new version of Bram Stoker’s classic horror tale being presented on Oct. 20 at Sands Point Preserve gives the bloodsucking count plenty of room to go for the jugular — both in its eerie effects and its effect on the audience.

But instead of grand guignol, gore and cobwebs, PUSH Physical Theatre’s “Dracula” adapts the oft-told story by retelling it mainly through dance movements — albeit choreography inspired by Stoker’s 1897 novel.

In a traveling production developed collaboratively at PUSH’s Rochester headquarters, the seven-member cast of dancers, acrobats and mimes uses minimal props, dialogue and costumes in what is billed as a “tale of seduction, desire and madness.”

The story is told through a series of “movement sketches,” says artistic director Darren Stevenson. In one, Dracula flies with the help of dancers, who carry the count around the stage in slow motion during a choreographed fight scene between heroes and villains.

“I get to do plenty of throwing characters around the stage, climbing on them and having them jump and climb on me,” says Stevenson, who also plays Dracula and appears in some scenes bare-chested in a long flowing black cape. 

If you’re looking for Halloween chills minus the splatter seen in some Dracula productions, this version emphasizes the power of suggestion over gore.

“Your imagination is always going to be more frightening than anything you can create onstage,” Stevenson says.

The venue itself is expected to enhance the Gothic mood. Castle Gould, a granite and limestone mansion built — but never lived in — a few years after Stoker published his novel, stands in for Dracula’s Transylvania digs.

“It’s literally a massive, menacing structure that at night is a scary place before you do anything to it,” says Beth Horn, managing director of the Sands Point Preserve Conservancy. As audience members gather for the play’s opening scene outside the castle, the limestone façade will be bathed in eerie lighting, Horn says.

A castle doorway will lead to the castle’s Black Box Theater, a cavernous 7,000-square-foot soundstage. Horn says lighting will transform the space into “something dark and quite frightening.”

Stevenson, a Dracula devotee since his youth in his native Cornwall, England, says that within the Black Box Theater’s murkily lit space, Stoker purists will find answers to questions left open in the novel.  

“In Bram Stoker’s 'Dracula,' the two notable characters whose story we don’t get to hear firsthand are Renfield and Dracula himself,” Stevenson says. “We wanted to give a window into their world.” 

This story is told through the eyes of Renfield, Dracula’s henchman, who is committed to an asylum after a bite on the neck elicits strange behavior. Renfield is portrayed by Walker Robeson.

In one of the production’s weirdest moments, dancers’ bodies meld together to become the table and chair in Renfield’s cell.

“As he [Renfield] becomes crazier, his furniture starts to communicate with him and moves,” Stevenson says.

Audiences won’t be let off the hook when it comes to psychological terror in this production.

Says Stevenson: “Hearing a neck snap alongside a movement is in many ways far more frightening than anything you might do with blood and gore.”

WHAT PUSH Physical Theatre's 'Dracula'

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Oct. 20, Castle Gould’s Black Box Theater, Sands Point Preserve, 127 Middle Neck Rd., Sands Point

INFO 516-304-5076, sandspointpreserveconservancy.org

ADMISSION $55-$70

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