Arts Listings

‘Dracul, Prince of Fire’ at Oakland’s The Crucible

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday January 15, 2009 - 06:36:00 PM

Nothing like sitting by a nice, cozy fire, just after New Year’s ...  

Sitting in the front row at West Oakland’s The Crucible for their Fire Ballet Dracul, Prince of Fire, is more than toasty warm, however. The Crucible by day—and on other nights, too—is a full-time industrial arts educational foundry, teaching everything from blacksmithing and glassblowing to ceramics and jewelry—the fire arts. 

But, as The Crucible puts it, in an “unique pas de deux between the industrial and the performing arts,” the workaday setting is transformed a few times a year to put on a show—a hot show—in this case, as in the past, a Fire Ballet, Dracul, Prince of Fire. 

There’s something of a tour-de-force to Crucible productions, naturally, as they feature the methods and products of the foundry, and something of the media event, as The Crucible itself is featured. But Fire Ballets are more than P.R. exercises. As a spectacle, the show is—riveting. And the talent of performers and production staff (not to mention those who create the properties by fire, besides those who handle fire onstage) is impressive, and quite recognizable to performing arts attendees hereabouts. 

Dracul reimagines the vampire legend as an acrobatic warrior (Brett Womack, past aerialist for Pickle Family Circus and Vau de Vire) battles a remarkable, fullsize, metal-scaled firedrake, spouting flame (the name Dracul—a supposedly comes from a form of “dragon”)—and receives the “gift” of flame from a bite from the fiery-eyed beast (which will return for a well-deserved bow at curtain call). 

Dracul sets his own foundry in gear, with a crew of hardbitten zombies, and a trio of “VampFatales” (Kerri Kresinski, Noel Dellofano-and Breonna Noack, contortionist extraordinaire, a great presence onstage, who distinguished herself as the title vixen in Oakland Opera Theatre’s production of Stravinsky’s Renard last fall). Into this happy menage (a cast of 22) stumble a couple young yuppie lovers, Janet and Brad (splendid ballet principals Tina Kay Bohnstedt of Diablo and Ethan White—who has been seen with Oakland and Smuin Ballets), a vampire slayer (acrobat Sadie Henderson as Lady Buffy Van Helsing!) and the dot com couple’s forlorn friend Lucy (aerialist Alyssa Marx).  

Lots of bites and fights ensue—all impressive, even touching—until a happy end, of sorts, is fashioned from the carnage, perhaps with a moral: Industrial workers unite! You have nothing to lose but your bane.  

The constantly active, always amazing and amusing stage direction is Mark Streshinsky’s, who directed Berkeley Opera’s great production of Clark Suprynowicz and John O’Keefe’s wry Crysalis. Diablo Ballet’s Viktor Kabaniaev provides the choreography that meets a hundred challenges in this show that carries a resonance from the great, pioneering Ballet de Monte Carlo’s shows that combined dance with circus—and as Diaghelev admonished Cocteau, the audience is astonished. 

Designer and overall director of Dracul is Crucible founder Michael Sturtz, who in a long, well-spoken introduction, welcomed the public to his organization’s site, and gave the impressive growth figures of their decade in existence, from a rented 6,000-square-foot location in Berkeley to the present owned 56,000 square feet near West Oakland BART, with a faculty of 100, over 5,000 adult students and more than 3,500 youth served, $60,000 in scholarships for over 100 youth classes—and more. 

Before the show, the audience can stroll, drink in hand, through exhibits and live demonstrations of the fire arts. 

And this July, The Crucible’s Fire Arts Festival, open-air celebration, promises an original opera. 


Jan. 14-17 at The Crucible, 1260 7th St., Oakland. Doors open at 7 p.m., show 8:30 p.m. Admission $55. 444-0919 x 122;