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Scorpius Dance Brings the Spectacle to A Vampire Tale at Phoenix Theatre

Seductive vampires writhed their way around the stage last week as Scorpius Dance Theatre opened its 12th annual run of A Vampire Tale — a show conceived, choreographed, and directed by Lisa Starry, the company’s artistic director. It’s being performed at Hormel Theatre, located on the Phoenix Theatre campus, through Saturday, October 10.

The full-length contemporary dance piece, which Starry considers a Halloween equivalent of the traditional ballet The Nutcracker meted out during Christmas season, imagines a young woman’s encounter with vampires who find her neck fiercely alluring. It’s problematic for the Vampire Queen (Nicole Olson), because the Vampire King (Gavin Sisson) finds the ingénue Eve (Ashley Zarr) especially intriguing.

The lass gets lured to dinner by a character called the Strange Man, and you can guess what’s on the menu. He’s portrayed by guest artist Damon Dering, best known to most as artistic director for Nearly Naked Theatre. It’s a comedic twist that might derail the dancing were it not for Dering’s devilishly sweet performance. Still, for all its charm, the humor is more distracting than entertaining at times — especially when carbohydrates find their way into the vampires' dinner plans. 

But that’s a detail not worth flashing one’s fangs over, because everything else about A Vampire Tale is over-the-moon delicious. Between the dance, aerial arts, music, and visual feast created by mood-altering lighting and costumes, the show is a full-blown spectacle. Plenty of Vegas stages want for productions this polished. Scorpius has also performed this show at a Bram Stoker film festival in England.

Although the set is relatively simple, it’s effective. Candles top pedestals on either side of the stage, which is backed by a metal grid on which dancers often perch or do their writhing thing. Several scenes include hollow coffins, and one sets the Vampire Queen atop a black baby grand piano. It’s a dance extravaganza through-and-through, just campy enough to be cool instead of corny.

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Starry’s choreography for A Vampire Tale, filled with pas de deux performed in various couplings, showcases her dancers’ dramatic flair, athleticism, and grace. So, too, does aerial choreography by Sisson. The cast includes 27 dancers, 11 of whom perform aerial feats — sometimes solo, other times in tandem. Chief among them is Sisson, who exudes strength and agility in his work with silks, a suspended hoop, and the trapeze he twirls atop as if powering his own three-ring circus. 

The musical mash-up for A Vampire Tale, all recorded rather than performed live, ranges from Nine Inch Nails to Schubert. But many of the works' 16 scenes feature original songs composed, arranged, and performed by Kristofer Hill. They’re heavy laden with drums, cello, and piano sometimes punctuated by howls, screams, or chanting. It’s a gritty soundtrack played at high volume that’s well-suited to Starry’s spirited vampire world.

A Vampire Tale continues through October 10 at Phoenix Theatre. Tickets are $30 (plus fees) and available through www.phoenixtheatre.com. Find more information on the Scorpius Dance Theatre website

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