DANCE, DRACULA, DANCE!
. . .BUT WHO IS PLAYING THE
By Suzanne Muldowney
Ever since Bram Stoker's gothic novel was first published a century ago, The character and story of Dracula have been dramatized countless times--and, as a rule, whoever played the title role would be made a public VIP or hero. Even before Dracula the obvious vampire-count was even dreamed of, his real-life side, Prince Vlad Tepes, was used in a number of Central and Eastern European dramas. tend to think, automatically, of movies or straight plays as the most frequently used media. But a subject like Dracula has found its way into other media not quite so obvious or, sorry to say, people who thought of other methods or the people cast as Dracula for these other methods were not given enough notice, in light of much hard work, struggle, and frustration. This account is one of a creator and performer who has been shamefully shortchanged and is now in a very perilous situation.
In January of 1972, a telemovie The Niqht Stalker, about a serial killer vampire" loose in Las Vegas, premiered. one-third of the country was intrigued by this movie; when it was rerun a year later, I decided to make a modern ballet version of it. However, when it was almost completed, I came upon another idea: if this story was about a vampire, why not a ballet about the world's foremost vampire, Dracula? (At this time, I had not yet come upon Dracula's true-life information.) Having studied ballet as a teenager but having become a freestyle interpretive dancer rather than a conventional ballet dancer, and knowing the names and stories of a number of standard ballets, I knew that there was not already a ballet, or any musical score, entitled Dracula. Apparently Dracula had never been used for dance.
But why Dracula, of all topics? I had the ability to originate, not just repeat others previous ideas. As a school girl, I had been maliciously teased by my classmates and consequently had been criticized by my teachers and my family. I had been a target for others' discourtesies; I am still a target today. Why shouldn't I create something about Dracula and Play his part, since super-good and super-bad characters, real or imaginary, are always made centers of attention in term of dramatics? I could identify with someone regarded as loathsome and horrendous after having been targeted and singled out by my contemporaries as something weird, strange, or "unbelonging". The hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who had played Dracula were never ostracized, never vilified, put down by everyone who knew them; on the contrary, they were glorified!
I was ready to create a dance version of the Dracula story, but there was one big obstacle: I did not know the Plot because I had never read Bram Stoker's novel and had never seen a stage or film dramatization. I knew all too well that stories originating in print made into plays or movies had mistakes, changes, in the plots! I didnt want to start out by watching a dramatization lest I copy too many of its features or unknowingly duplicate plot mistakes in it! The best way to get the story correctly was to read the novel. I found a copy in the town library and sequestered it at home.
Thus it was in the spring and summer of 1973 that I read the Stoker novel and created my interpretive-dance version of it. As I read the novel and got characters, places, and incidents down pat, I imagined scenes faithful and accurate to the plot; naturally, there had to be a musical background. I had always been raised on classical music; when making up dances meant to be original, I used existing music rather than compose my own, but the music could not already be associated with a them or idea.
I ALWAYS HAVE USED 'EXISTING MUSIC, BUT NONE ALREADY WITH A THEME BEHIND IT LEST LISTENERS 'RECOGNIZE THE MUSIC
AND IDENTIFY IT WITH AN EXAMINING MOTIF.
In searching for music, I listened to assorted "virgin" symphonies, concertos, sonatas, etc. that to me seemed custom-made for various scenes from the novel. In the end, I chose mostly music by Aram Khatchaturian and also some by Dmitri Shostakovich.
The finished dance version turned out to have many action scenes' there were not that many dance highlights. Altogether there were four big dance numbers, one of which, a solo for Dracula himself. I have since performed many times.
It was not until after I had completed
my dance work that some movie versions of the story had additional television
reruns. I watched some of these not to make alterations on my work, but to see
how accurately these films followed the novel's plot. As it turned out, the
celebrated Bela Lugosi version made a lot of mistakes, and for its overture
borrowed part of the ballet Swan Lake's score. In February 1974, a newly-made
TV movie, with Jack Palance, followed the plot so accurately and was described
as "really scary" and was fostered for weeks afterwards in newspapers
and magazines, that I became fearful that this one might be labeled the quintessential
Dracula dramatization of all time and that my dance
version, not yet ever performed, would be falsely branded a copycat even though it was dance, not stage/film acting.
ONE MUST ALWAYS CONSIDER HOW CERTAIN WORKS OF ART, ESPECIALLY IN DRAMATICS, RECEIVE So MUCH ATTENTION CONSTANTLY THAT OTHER WORKS USING THE SAME THEMES ARE COMPARED OR BRANDED INFERIOR.
I felt desperate; if my dance version was not performed soon, no one would realize I had created it independently of other dramatizations and media! In 1974 and 1975 1 had my Dracula ballet copyrighted. And, there was not already a dance version of Dracula so that I could be denied a copyright!
COPIES OF MY COPYRIGHT ARE AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST.
I was aware that Dracula was now a big fad; for the past year or two I had seen bits and pieces of evidence that asserted Dracula really had existed. I felt that while he was apparently in demand, I had to get my dance version performed. But that was not possible unless additional dancers were available. Since ballet was always pre-determined and formal, I had already decided against any more lessons in it. I searched around for a modern dance company who would give lessons in free-spirited dancing. The group I finally began lessons with in April 1974, Group Motion in Philadelphia, had a class called Dance Laboratory, which allowed the students to take turns making up and teaching their own projects.
Eventually when I wanted a turn, I informed the group about my having created a dance version of Dracula. (I always felt I was dressed as him, in the classes, since naturally I wore a black leotard and tights and had my hair 'Pulled back!) The members, who claimed that there was "something black and sinister" about my dancing, refused to do my ballet, insisting that Dracula was "too morbid" a subject! They discriminated against the topic, at any rate!
I HAD NEVER BEEN ALLOWED TO BE SELECTIVE ABOUT WHAT PERFORMANCES I DID.BECAUSE THIS GROUP REFUSED TO DO MY WORK, AND SPURNED THE SUBJECT OF DRACULA, THEY LEFT A LASTING NEGATIVE IMPRESSION. APPARENTLY I WOULD ALWAYS BE A LONER IN FOSTERING DRACULA THROUGH DANCE.
The group also had their own rule about how to be interpretive through dance; I had been accustomed to being inspired simultaneously by the music. Instead, the group ruled on the breath, expanding and contracting the body like inflating and deflating a balloon, they also curbed individuality. After a year of this, which seemed sometimes comparable to cult brainwashing, I stopped taking lessons with them. Still, I felt that I had to get my Dracula ballet performed, although there was only one number, a solo, from it that I could do. But where was my stage?
At this time I had a nine-to-five stereotyped, dance-irrelevant job in Philadelphia. There were several extremely distinguished theaters there, but I didn't feel worthy of even trying. The only facilities in which I wound up doing volunteer performances were senior citizens' clubs and nursing homes within a mile radius of my workplace. These performances were short and limited to daytime hours or immediately after my workdays.
In the fall of 1974 I found discarded
newspapers headlined with the discovery of the real Castle Dracula, the names
of Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally as the expedition heads, and capsule reviews
of Dracula's factual life. I felt obliged to educate myself thoroughly on these
facts, since as a teenager I had been needled to concern myself strictly with
the truth and reality as opposed to fantasy. Undoubtedly the needed information
could be found in books, but many of these books sidetracked into the generalities
of myth, vampirism, sorcery, and other topics usually found only in the occult
section. Satanism, occultism and related topics, I was afraid to delve into
because I suspected that to do so
would be a serious sin.
By trying to learn the facts about Dracula, I found that I was also trying to create additional dances about him, dances independent of my Stoker ballet, dances whose plots concerned his real life. The dances, of course, called for additional unused music. One of these dances, Order of the Dragon, devised in 1975, dealt with Dracula's donning the insignia inherited from his father.
In the summer of 1975, 1 got a lead
on a means to a public recital. During weekdays at lunchtime, there was a summer
entertainment series showcasing bands, as well as occasional singers or dancers,
at John F. Kennedy Plaza, one of Philadelphia's public parks. Obviously there
was some outfit in charge of this series; performers had to get in touch in
order to be scheduled. I resolved that next
year, I simply had to perform in this series as Dracula! I had to do it next year 1976--because by now I had learned that Dracula had met his end in 1476; the five hundredth anniversary was approaching!
There turned out to be a fellowship of dancers and choreographers in Philadelphia: Philadelphia Dance Alliance. I joined them sometime in 1975 in case they devised ways and means for obscure artists to perform without having to be big-time stars in prominent theaters, subject to constant scrutiny by critics and coaches.
In the fall of 1975 1 also felt
obliged to contact the authorities on the historical Dracula. I wrote a letter
to Raymond McNally, not knowing if he would
get it or answer it; but I felt morally bound to inform an expert about myself and my apparent first doings with Dracula in dance. In all this time, there had been no evidence, let alone acknowledgement or publication, of anyone else doing the same things.
ONE MUST ALWAYS CONSIDER THAT SO OFTEN, APPARENT "FIRSTS" AT ANYTHING ARE ACKNOWLEGED AND CREDITED ACCORDINGLY SO THAT EVERYONE IS MADE AWARE AND THE FACTS ARE PUT ON PERMANMENT RECORD, SO THAT THE PEOPLE AND THEIR DEEDS BECOME HISTORY.
Though I had to make my move in 1976, I was afraid of what my family would say about it. I was still living with my family at this time and had had to keep, my aforementioned performances secret. Though I was of legal age, I was still entrapped by family opinions, prejudices, and judgments. If they did not approve of something I was considering or doing, but I wanted to go ahead anyway, it was tantamount to sin and wrongdoing!
At the beginning of February 1976, the unbelievable happened: I received a letter, in answer to mine, from Raymond McNally! In contacting him, I had used my work address rather than my home address, so that no busybodies would question me, or read the letter. McNally stated that he was interested in my endeavors and would want to see me in performance sometime! But how was I ever going to get an opportunity in or near Boston?
On the afternoon of February 25, I had just returned from my lunch break and was about to resume work when a call came through for me from the lobby: McNally was there, come to see me! I gulped, hung up without a word, and went down the hall. In my mind I heard the musical passages from my Dracula ballet corresponding with the Count's coming to the door to greet real-estate agent Jonathan Harker! I just couldn't believe McNally was there, in the flesh! He wanted us to go out for lunch, but I had just returned from it. I got permission for us to confer in an empty room. He stated he was ambitious to mount an extra-special Dracula event this year. Why this year? I asked him. He mentioned how 1976, in addition to being the U.S. Bicentennial, was also the five hundredth anniversary of the historical Draculas death. "I know! I know that!" I squealed in response; I, too, was eager to make something extra special of Dracula this year. We made a lunch date for the next day, since both today and the next day, he was engaged to give lectures in an adjoining suburb. The next day I made sure to wear black and a dark cape; I had also crafted a pendant with a dragon's head! Being on the lunch date seemed to me like something out of a fairy tale. McNally promised to devise a way to help me; I felt that finally I had the proverbial connection, the necessity for future success. I told him about the additional dances I was working on or had devised concerning the real Dracula, a.k.a. Vlad Tepes. I showed him my dragon-head pendant, whereupon he informed me how the order of the dragon insignia correctly looked, since I had not yet come upon a correct, accurate description. The wonderful date was over all too soon. That night, my family remarked at dinner that I looked very happy. But I dared not tell them why!
In his letter, McNally mentioned a magazine The Monster Times, whose March issue was focused entirely on Dracula. But when I tried to get a copy, it apparently did not circulate in my area. Instead, I found only a horror-movie publication, Famous Monsters of Filmland, whose March issue had an article on the life of actor Bela Lugosi. From this article, I learned that Lugosi had died on August 16th, 1976! This August would mark the twentieth anniversary! If I was going to dance Dracula in "76 Days of Fun," that summer entertainment series I had discovered at Kennedy Plaza, the date would have to be August 16! How very fortunate that it was to be on a weekday!
Since now I had met one of the biggest experts, I felt obliged to educate myself to the core about the real Dracula. I finally purchased a copy of In Search of Dracula by McNally and Florescu, and kept it concealed at my workplace.
The Philadelphia Dance Alliance scheduled a performance workshop for March 20, 1976. One did not have to be an accomplished big star; this workshop welcomed classic and modern performers, established and original numbers. I decided to do Order of the Dragon, having authenticated the dragon coat of arms on my tunic and pendant. So that the audience would understand the dance's story, I wrote a commentary which the emcee would read just before I began. But on the day of the performance, during intermission, I scanned the audience and was alarmed to see a member of my family there! There would be hellfire if they found out my number was Dracula-oriented! I had to eliminate the use of my commentary and also omit a few gestures which would have been a giveaway! Thus my first public Dracula performance had to be watered down!
After that, I busily read that Dracula biography and also searched far and wide to get in touch with the people in charge of "76 Days of Fun." I was elated to succeed in getting through to them; they were intrigued with my proposal of a Dracula dance recital on the twentieth anniversary of Bela Lugosi's death. I got the booking!
I found a more complete Dracula book, Dracula: A Biography of Vlad the Impaler by the same two historians. I also succeeded in contacting the other one, Radu Fllorescu! He did not plan to come see me as McNally had, but he was to teach a course on Dracula at Boston University during the summer; I was invited to come sit in on a session and meet him in the process!
Though everything seemed to be building up nicely, I still had the burden of having to tell my family about my plans for "76 Days of Fun." Telling them was very painful; I was afraid, though I was in my twenties, that I would be punished or forbidden to go through with the show. Expectedly, my family took offense at my choice of topic. So many other people had performed Dracula without being ostracized for it; why was I being put down? The excuse was that Dracula was of more than just casual interest; it was an obsession. My family was stunned at my telling them that Dracula had existed for real; when I explained the facts and the difference between Dracula's two sides, I was criticized for having researched the life of a murderous tyrant, and McNally and Florescu were branded lunatics for having brought the facts to light in the first place. My family realized they had no right to stop me from going through with the performance, but they refused to come and see it, and they still were offended with my thoughts and actions so far. In fact, they even challenged me with a question that hit below the belt: What made me think I was good enough, qualified enough, to perform in public at all?
I had had to go through this ordeal single-handed; I had received no backup or support from anyone. I had thought McNally would stick up for me, but instead he had stayed aloof. This sadly reminded me of how King Matthias I of Hungary had promised to aid Dracula in his crusades against the Turks but instead had proved only a lip servicer.
Now there was about to be a major breakthrough: the portrayal of Dracula, a topic in public domain, through dance, and in the historical as well as the fictional sense. In the last few weeks before my scheduled performance I sent information to newspapers, television stations, and a few magazines not only dedicated to culture but also with the job of being alert for and publicizing apparent "firsts." one of these was Dance Magazine.
During this time I also took my first airplane trip--to Boston. On July 29, 1976, I met Radu Florescu where he was teaching the aforementioned course on Dracula at Boston U. When I returned home, I was obliged to tell my family about the trip and about him.
Sometimes at my workplace, I had seen staff people printing and carrying news releases about the performances scheduled for `76 Days of Fun"; city VIPs were known to frequent the shows, and frequently the newspapers and television stations covered the performances. With leads like these, I had to make sure the media were informed about what I was about to do; if city VIPs witnessed my appearance, their presence were the modern equivalent of VIPs of bygone eras frequenting performances at the opera, ballet, and theater so that the performers garnered VIP status for having distinguished themselves before prominent people such as kings, presidents, ambassadors, governors, etc.
I danced three of my Dracula numbers on the crucial day of August 16: the Vampire Solo from my ballet version of Stoker's novel; order of the Dragon, and part of The Dracula Archives (my biographical dance on Vlad Tepes) showing Dracula's perishing and then his vampiric makeover. one of the local television- stations showed me briefly on the news--it was my first time on television--and two newspapers printed pictures of me the next day.
Following a significant happening, there was supposed to be a major followup. There were supposed to be news stories for days, weeks, even months afterward; certain people and deeds were supposed to be immortalized, even deified; relevant fads were supposed to arise and last for significant lengths of time. But after August 16, there were no followup interviews, no offers for more performances, and no mention of me by those publications whose job it was to be always on the alert for new developments.
I HAD MADE SURE TO NOTIFY ENTITIES WHOSE JOB IT WAS TO BE AWARE OF NEW DOINGS, BUT THEY IGNORED MY STORY COMPLETELY. THEIR REFUSING TO ACKNOWLEDGE ME WOULD BRING SERIOUS TROUBLE YEARS LATER!
As a teenager, I had had a book, "To Dance, To Dream" that consisted of biographies of famous dancers. One section had dealt on the Taglioni-Elssler rivalry: in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, Marie Taglioni, the first ballerina to dance extensively on tiptoe, and the dancer that made tiptoe dancing the norm for women in ballet, was renowned for portraying fairies, nymphs, sprites, and similar supernatural beings. But she was almost put out of business with the hiring of Fanny Elssler, a folk-dance specialist. "The fiery zest of Fanny Elssler's (folk) dance. . . must have been a refreshing change from so much frail spirituality. She was welcomed with enthusiasm. Some even preferred her to Taglioni." Because I was portraying Dracula through dance, and was not just another cliche "vampire," I deserved to be "welcomed with enthusiasm' as a "refreshing change" from other obvious media and for showing the other side of the persona. Instead, there was no followup. Because I received no offers for more appearances as a result of my debut, I had to go after more opportunities on my own. Even having agents, managers, according to protocol, did not improve MY situation at all.
METHODS I WAS SUPPOSED TO FOLLOW IN ORDER TO SUCCEED DID NOT YIELD THE RESULTS THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO. I MADE SACRIFICES WITHOUT GETTING THE REWARDS.
In October of 1976, the Philadelphia Dance Alliance had another performance workshop such as they had had in March. I performed one of my own dances in it --a dance other than Dracula--only to be besieged afterwards by other dancers, teachers and coaches criticizing and questioning me for not being meticulously trained and molded in countless dance, technique, choreography and "brand-name" courses. In their eyes, I was a lousy dancer. I received not one compliment that day at that event.
At this same time, the Alliance was going to have a cultured dance festival the next month using the finest dancers in Philadelphia and vicinity. But performers had to audition before top-notch critics from New York. I auditioned with one of my Dracula dances, thus alerting these distinguished VIPs that there was a formidable dancing Dracula, the apparent first, a "Princess Dracula" as I chose to be called if anyone chose to refer to me as Dracula and add an honorific title. 'But I did not pass the audition. Worst of all, the critics denounced me so severely and harshly that I might just as well have been butchered and mutilated by Jack the Ripper, with words instead of knives. They claimed I had no right to consider myself a dancer, or even just a student dancer, at all. If being critics of always the finest dancers was their job, they could very well be spoiled, wanting only the best--the best of the best--the quintessential, intolerant of anything less than perfect. Their attitude might just as well have been that of Philippe Taglioni, the father--and coach--of aforementioned ballerina Marie Taglioni; he was overbearing and zealous. "He was pitiless in his criticism, unrelenting in his demands. If only once he would say that she (Marie] had given a faultless performance--But always he discovered a flaw. . ." I was badly shaken by these professional fault finders; the' opinions and judgment of me, not my own, were all that counted; no one reproached them or took action against them for their verbally sadistic negativism. They had not said anything positive, even about my use of the Dracula topic. Even my family was unsympathetic!
Ironically, when the projected festival came to pass, the reviews said not one thing positive about the dancers who had been chosen for it! Those dancers supposedly were the greatest in the area, having auditioned before those selective critics, but instead of being lauded, they were put down!
I was supposed to go on a local television talk show, with McNally, in December to mark, to the day, the five hundredth anniversary of the historical Dracula's death. But the station went back on its word. The crucial year of 1976 ended in crushing defeat.
The critics had said I was sadly in need of beginners (!) classes in mime and numberless other dance topics. (What did they think I was--a little child?) In the next few months I tried to get enrolled in classes such as those, but the instructors always dismissed me after only one session, saying that I was too advanced for a beginner's class. It seemed I couldn't please anyone; the professionals said I was worthless, and amateurs said I was too accomplished. Over the next couple of years I searched desperately for courses of instruction to appease the implication that perfectionist, zealous coaches always had to keep my minutest moves under scrutiny and criticism; some courses lasted only a few weeks or went against my grain.
In April 1977 I moved into my own apartment, and have had my own address ever since.
Only a month after I moved, Philadelphia Dance Alliance held another performance workshop. It turned out that May 1977 marked eighty years, to the date, for the anniversary of Bram Stoker's novel! Obligingly, I danced The Dracula Archives. But I did not linger at the site afterwards lest I be again verbally assaulted by faultfinders.
I continued to struggle in order to get more opportunities as well as media acknowledgement of what I was doing. When I started out by saying that I was a dancer, the other party insisted upon 'specifics, whereupon I would mention particular things I did; or when I started out with specifics, instead I would be asked only about generalities. Again, no matter what I did, it was the wrong thing.
Because of the apparent rule that I had to have agents or join unions, I pored over out-of-state telephone directories to get myself connected with a couple dozen agents based all over the country. A union named Equity, supposedly meant especially for dancers, would not grant membership unless I already had a contract to perform, and contracts were given only to people who already were members!
Obviously I could not limit myself
to performing in just one geographical locale; I had to be a missionary. After
all, many performing outfits toured regions,
countries, even the whole world to assure their reputations. And with a topic like
Dracula, I had to be seen and acknowledged anywhere and everywhere!
I also pored over a television-station directory to find names, addresses, and talk/guest show programs of dozens of local TV stations. I sent dozens of letters so that I could dance Dracula in various distant locales!
Having been in that outdoor entertainment series, `76 Days of Fun," I also wrote letters th major U.S. cities hoping to find and be in similar series. But not one event I contacted invited me to participate.
In the fall of 1977 the newspapers were making a lot of noise about the standard "Dracula" stage play returning to Broadway. Frank Langella was being made a false god. The papers afforded to glorify straight plays about Dracula but still shortchanged or ignored me!
Because fall and Halloween were the traditional times to glorify Dracula, I was becoming more and more despondent. I made only one dance appearance during this time; it was my first TV talk show appearance in response to one of my many letters. Because it was in Boston, I immediately contacted Drs. Florescu. and McNally about it. But I was unable to pay them a visit.
At the end of 1977, one of the agents I had allied with offered an opportunity to appear once in a while in a South Jersey nightclub. However, the variety show the agent was organizing was a Gong Show! I was appalled, being all too aware of the monstrosity of a national TV show by the same name. No, the agent said, I would not be put up for judging. Over the next few months into 1978 1 made several appearances with my original dances. (I didn't do solely Dracula numbers.) Unfortunately, the club patrons were completely uncultured and uncouth, yelling for me to be eliminated even though I was not being judged. One time I left the stage in mid-routine when they were exceptionally rude. In the end, the agent stopped holding these shows, and left me in the lurch. my having participated in the shows and with the agent had led to nothing better.
I WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE SELECTIVE ABOUT WHAT I DID OR WHERE I DID IT. HERE, I HAD GONE WITH THE FLOW ONLY TO HAVE THE RIVER RUN DRY.
Over the next several years I continued vainly to get opportunities through agents, contacting newspapers and TV stations, and in prominent events or facilities. Once in a while I made a TV appearance in a far-distant site. My deeds were supposed to "take root" in people's minds to bring about more appearances, but it was all in vain. I was marketing a topic that was the current Big Fad, but still went unacknowledged as "the first dancing Dracula" or as any kind of meritorious performer.
I received absolutely no encouragement or acknowledgement at my workplace, since my job was totally irrelevant to dance. I was deeply insulted when one of the groups executives returned after a long absence and the group's newsletter gave him the "hail the returning hero" treatment: what he had done during his absence was totally irrelevant to his job with the group They chose to salute an executive but not just another miscellaneous employee, for achievements irrelevant to the job!
Twice in 1979 1 rented auditoriums in order to perform my dances in theatrical venues. One auditorium was in Philadelphia; the other in Boston. But no one came at all to the performances.
Sometimes the hosts of the TV talk shows would ask about my costumes, since my re-creations of the historic Dracula ensembles were unknown except to those who might have read the research or seen a copy of the Castle Ambras portrait. The idea came to me to formulate a Dracula Fashion Show, in which I would either be photographed in my costumes or tour a room in them.
But I was distressed to learn that to be considered a model, I had to go through a total making over: besides being meticulously programmed in regimented modeling techniques, I also had to be totally brainwashed in terms of everyday speech and habits, as well as dressing. The program was costly and time-consuming, with no guarantee of success. Agents and staff pointed to photographic models in magazines and said "Just look at this perfect model. See how virtuous, how exemplary she is. . ." Models were meant to be gods. Involving myself in such making over was out of the question.
While I was still in grammar school, my classmates pestered me to dress more fashionably just to be accepted in others' company. When I went through all the trouble of prettier clothes and stylish hair, I was not any more popular. I was always goaded to perfect myself in every trivial way, even though no one was perfect, but they pushed me to be perfect. But I was treated no better as a result. As far as photographic or live modeling went, I had seen dance-costume catalogs in a theatrical supply store where I purchased-fabrics for my costumes; the models in those catalogs were area professional dancers who occasionally worked in that store between performances. Those dancers were not professional models. They had not had to be formally trained in modeling in order to pose for those catalogs. Sometimes in my high school and college, seasonal fashion shows were mounted there with some of the students as models without being put through a regimen of training or having to be professionals.
I HAD SEEN EVIDENCE CONTRADICTORY TO ESTABLISHED SYSTEMS. EARLIER NEEDLINGS AT SELF-PERFECTION AND STAMPS OF APPROVAL HAD NOT IMPROVED MY SITUATION.
Sometime in 1980 I spoke to the head of one Philadelphia-based modeling agency who, to my relief, was content with me the way I was; he did not oust me for not being meticulously molded. He appreciated my willingness to appear in ensembles of my own construction. And he also said that it was always his ambition to do a Dracula Fashion Show! Other models in his group could very well display re-created peasant, noble, clergy, and other costumes of Dracula's time and place.
Unfortunately, when he presented the idea and the topic to the models, not one consented!
THE SAME WAY WITH DANCE, WOULD-BE PARTICIPANTS IN A DRACULA PROJECT OF MY CREATION DISCRIMINATED AGAINST THE TOPIC. THEY ALSO GOT AWAY WITH SELECTIVITY.
There was an important milestone anniversary approaching. Bela Lugosi's classic Dracula movie had premiered on February 14, 1931. Soon it would be fifty years to the day! Since I knew that frequently 2ILblic libraries in large cities frequently held cultural programs, I contacted a number of libraries urging them to have programs utilizing this anniversary, engaging my dancing in the process.
Two libraries accepted the idea: Las Vegas and Philadelphia. There would be two successive days, one day in each site, that would have me perform. Philadelphia would also show the film. Philadelphia and Las Vegas were set for February 14 and 15 respectively.
Because of all the struggles and letdowns I had had up to now, I felt that these two performances would be my last chance for the star-level recognition I craved. I also felt that the big Dracula fad was fading; in mid-1979 Frank Langella had graduated from stage to film with his Dracula impersonations; once the film had premiered, less attention was spent by the media on Dracula as if the film automatically meant the culmination of the fad. If I was to be acknowledged officially and formally as the apparent "first dancing Dracula"--in all this time, there had been no evidence, let alone publicity , of anyone else doing so!--this had to be a strategic final break in calling attention to the topic. Accordingly, I sent news releases and photos to the newspapers and magazines in Philadelphia and Las Vegas. I also sent the information to some science-fiction- or fantasy-oriented periodicals which had been listed shortly before in the newspapers. One periodical which always harped on old-time horror movies, the aforementioned Famous Monsters of Filmland, I made sure to notify; they owed it to themselves to publicize things done in behalf of films or casts they chose to deify.
Thankfully, the newspapers in both cities utilized both the story and pictures!
In Philadelphia, I made sure to use the Vampire Solo from my dance version of the Stoker novel; so rarely had I had a chance to use it. In both cities, I was sure to use The Dracula Archives. In Las Vegas, especially, it was important for me to dance that number since the date was February 15; the music I used for it had first been played in the United States on February 15, 1968!
One week after these performances, the head of that one congenial modeling group had me do a run on the runway as Dracula to open a spring fashion show in western New Jersey. But that was the only appearance I ever made with that group. The director remained friendly with me, but never engaged me again. Sometime later, the group went bankrupt.
In the time after the crucial Philadelphia-Las Vegas doubleheader, there was no follow-up in either site from either the media or opportunity sources. My workplace gave me no welcome back as they had with that male executive. The worst insult was total ignorance from Famous Monsters of Filmland. Neither did the other special-interest periodicals I had contacted mention my story.
I HAD BEEN IGNORED BY NOT JUST DANCE BUT ALSO HORROR AND SIMILAR SPECIAL-INTEREST CIRCLES.
Because sane forms of athletics were fostered as theatrical/entertainment as well as exercise, I invented several movement styles meant to be exhibition athletics. In fact, while in Las Vegas, I did one of these styles, Figure-jogging, on two local TV shows. These appearances and (more to it) movement styles did not involve Dracula impersonation or any other character portrayals. But these movement inventions shared the same pathetic story of never becoming established institutions.
Shortly after I returned from Las Vegas, there were talent auditions in Philadelphia for future TV appearance opportunities. I auditioned with Figure-Jogging and was accepted as a member of the group whose heads, it turned out, were Afro-American biological brothers whose studio was in their ground-floor apartment; a few years earlier they had written a disco-musical stage version of' Frankenstein, but the play had failed to become a big hit, let alone an all time standard. Most of the other auditioning talents were mainstream kids' dancing schools; the sibling directors apparently wanted more unusual talents. In time, though, associating with these two men and with the other members of the group proved another waste of time and money. The members had to report to the brothers' apartment studio--which was very rundown--every weekday immediately following their daytime commitments, so that group involvement became a second, but unpaid, job. (Members were enticed into contributing small amounts of money as dues, like church collections.) The brothers, who had claimed to be interested in members' unique talents and personalities, did nothing to foster those traits but instead wanted members only as casts for their (the brothers') own original ethnic--and mediocre--soap opera! They also devised their own variety-show equivalent of Dance Fever for airing late on Friday nights; with this format, I had no opportunity to perform any of my works in my own style. After only a couple of episodes, the brothers' show was cancelled and their studio was burglarized so that the group was forced to disband; moreover, I had been pushed into paying several hundred dollars worth of contributions which I never was reimbursed.
INVOLVEMENT IN THIS GROUP HAD BEEN ANOTHER STATISTIC OF WASTEFUL SERVITUDE TO THOSE IN CHARGE, NON-USE OF INDIVIDUAL ABILITIES, AND ULTIMATE RUINATION OF THE GROUP.
I was milked of over six hundred dollars' worth of fees by an agent who was Ill-mannered and irritating. He insisted on being my exclusive agent, ruled that half the fees had to be paid before any papers were signed, and would not let me read the papers over or keep copies. No other agent I had previously associated with had worked in these unorthodox and suspicious manners; when I questioned him, he always flew into rages. "Why must you always ask me why about this, that, and the other thing, always making things difficult for me?" He asserted that he had paralegal experience. But after being deprived of all that money, I went to a lawyer to have this agent looked up; I found out that he never was a licensed agent, and he had made himself untraceable. He never was found, and I had been cheated out of hundreds of dollars.
I bad not been asked to appear in the "76 Days of Fun" entertainment series after 1979. The Philadelphia Dance Alliance seemed to have stopped having those performance workshops. it was heartbreaking for me to read in their monthly newsletter how other area dancers always seemed to be prospering in either performances or classes. I was never able to get any students in classes I tried to teach. I was an underachiever compared to all these other artists. My out-of-area TV appearances had been fewer each year from 1979 to 1982. I had none in 1983.
In 1980 I had been drawn to science-fiction conventions since one item on their agendas was a masquerade contest, which welcomed entrants to exhibit themselves in self-made outfits and get into as much theater presence as possible during their turns. I first appeared in a science-fiction masquerade in July 1980. In 1981 I appeared as Dracula for these kinds of conventions in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I negotiated with the heads of these conventions to get guest spots on their programs so that I could do feature performances. In time, however, the convention-holding groups insisted that patrons were not interested in theatrics and were instead more interested in costume construction and history. Gradually I was made to give up doing dance numbers and was reduced to costume modeling, which in time was restricted to the confines of masquerade competition.
As I was gradually channeled into strictly costume modeling, I finally introduced the Dracula Fashion Show, using my four different ensembles depicting the Draculas of history and fantasy, at a science-fiction convention called Leprecon in Phoenix, Arizona, on May 15, 1982, in conjunction with the eighty fifth anniversary of Bram Stoker's novel. During judges' deliberations, I danced The Dracula Archives. In October of that same year, in conjunction with Halloween, I returned to Phoenix for what would be my last TV talk show for quite some time, doing not a dance but, again, the Dracula Fashion Show.
During the second half of 1983 I was having harder and harder times to please my employees. They threatened to fire me if I made complaints. Finally in December, after attending a dancers' gathering at which I was a total wallflower, I suffered a nervous collapse. my employers refused to accept the responsibility for having made conditions difficult for me, and threw me out.
I did not get another job until May 1984. I was still not in a performing-arts-related situation; I was now working in the suburbs rather than in the heart of the city; and I was earning far less than I had before. With my resources muchreduced, it was much harder now to get performance opportunities and to travel to and from them. I was justifiably concerned about the futures of all the dances I had created. So many had never been performed once! And what would become of my Dracula works?
In June 1985 the Philadelphia Dance Alliance finally had another performance workshop at a theater that had snubbed me years before. I did a figure-jogging number, but was criticized and ridiculed for it. When that theater held another recital the following year, they refused to let me participate!
Sometimes I would look backward at all I had gone through, examining evidential souvenirs in several scrapbooks. It seemed to me that February 1981 had been the last happiness I had felt. Since then, I bad known only increasing struggle, frustration, and failure. My dancing career seemed to be going only downward.
Then, in the fall of 1986, something heart-stopping occurred! I was looking through the TV-schedule paper for the week when I came across a heading for a show about new works of art in progress. The program was going to be about a ballet version of the Dracula novel!!!
When I saw this description, I howled. oh, no! Someone else doing the same thing I had already done, a topic I had been rebuked for? And the unknown party being shown on national television, as I had tried to be but had been-snubbed? Would this other Stoker ballet actually be accepted and reach the stage, the way mine had not? I could not see the program since the channel was one I did not receive. But this other Stoker ballet could ruin me! After all the stress, shortchangings, and other ordeals I had had, I was going to be totally wiped out! A few months later, the episode was rerun, but I still could not see it. I contacted the TV channel and, in turn , the program, who said that yes, that ballet had been performed, by a ballet company from Montreal, Canada!
What was going to happen to MY Dracula-related dances?
I HAD CREATED MY STOKER BALLEI' IN 1973, MORE THAN 10 YEARS EARLIER. I HAD INFORMED DANCE AND OTHER ARTS-RELATED PERIODICALS, WHO IGNORED ME COMPLETELY. DANCERS HAD REFUSED TO PERFORM MY S'IDKER BALLET,
BUT THEY AGREED TO DO SOMEONE ELSE'S VERSION. I HAD STRENUOUSLY STRUGGLED WITH MY DRACULA DANCES AND FASHION SHOW BUT HAD BEEN SHORTCHANGED OR IGNORED IN TERMS OF PUBLICITY / ACKNOWLEDGEMENT.
I HAD NEVER RECEIVED ANY AWARD FOR WHAT I DID. I HAD NEVER BEEN SEEN IN ANY TOP PRESTIGIOUS THEATERS OR SIMILAR FACILITIES. NOW, WITH THIS OTHER STOKER BALLEI' IN EXISTENCE, I WAS IN DANGER OF BEING FORCED OUT OF PRACTICE WITH MY DRACULA DANCES.
After dancers had discriminated against my version of the Stoker novel, saying Dracula was "too morbid a subject" (remember!! ?), they had said yes to someone else's use of the same subject! This rival Stoker ballet now stood a chance of being glamorized, immortalized, the way mine had not been, since no one had consented to perform it; the casts might very well be made demigods with the dancer in the title role being labeled "the first dancing Dracula"!! If this rival work was lauded as a significant "first" and given the red-carpet treatment, as mine had not, I might be falsely accused of stealing the idea if I ever got a chance to dance Dracula again! There couldn't be more than one dance version of Dracula or any other subject; that was the unwritten law.
Dracula had been used in movies many
times. The first one had been the silent Nosferatu in the' 20s. The makers of
the next film, Lugosi' s, did not care that a film already existed; more important:
no one took action against them
and the movie was accepted on equal grounds with the previous one. Every time another film based on the Stoker novel was made, its creators went ahead although other versions already existed, and their unchallenged works became realities.
With dance, however, there was an altogether different system. Once a topic was used as the plot of a ballet or other theatrical dance system, the resultant work was the only "right" version, the only acceptable one. Although different choreographers might do different things with the dance movements, the same ballet performed in a thousand different sites would use the same music and plot everywhere. The great dance excerpts would also go unchanged. Conventional stage plays followed the same method of the same script and story although stagings, costumes, background music, and sets might differ among numberless productions.
There was also the danger of certain dramatizations being made too important when more than one dramatization of the same public-domain topic existed. Look at how Disney dramatizations of popular fictional stories--stories which did not originate via Disney--were regarded as the only "right" dramatizations when others existed, usually before the Disney versions came to be. The Disney brand name was made the only one "acceptable" so that other dramatizations were hopelessly overshadowed.
Now that a rival work existed, I found out the company's name; they were from Montreal, Canada. Two of my TV talk show appearances had been in Montreal! I wrote the company director a letter informing the group that I had already done Dracula through dance and had had only bad luck. My letter went unansweredIn all this time, I had thought I was the only in-depth dancing Dracula," because not once had I seen any publicity about anyone else doing the same thing. More importantly: not once had I received complaints, threats, or lawsuits, nor any other form of communication, from anyone else claiming to do the same thing.
With the chances of this other Stoker ballet becoming an all-time standard so that I might be forced out of practice, and my having been shortchanged all these years, and my letter of distress ignored, it was with fear and apprehension that in January 1987 I appeared as Dracula in "Enchanted," a week-long series similar to "76 Days of Fun" held in the headquarters of Chicago's public libraries. There were no complaints afterward, or claims made, that I had borrowed the dancing-Dracula idea from others. But neither were there any more offers made to appear again in Chicago.
With the kinds of events in which I was now appearing, some types seeming bottom-of-the-barrel because I didn't dance but just wandered around greeting people, Dracula was not an appropriate theme. While all my previous effort with Dracula was falling into obscurity, the other Stoker ballet probably was becoming a staple classic! In 1993, while looking through a Calendar of Events for my home state, I discovered scheduled performances for the rival work by another dance company, headquartered in mid-state! I wrote another letter to this group, but they, too, never bothered to reply.
I suffered another nervous collapse
in 1994, partly as a result of a hit-andrun accident which left me hospitalized
with a concussion. My employers refused
to take me back unless I attended some support groups. But these groups were harsh and hostile rather than encouraging; worst of all, after I did what my employers demanded, they did not re-hire me. I have not been able, since, to find another job, let alone one pertinent to theatrics (where I would be under too much criticism and scrutiny anyway, or would not be accepted at all). I am now very poorly off in my performing status; any appearances I do make are gratis,
not paid, and transportation is my own expense; I am told to get a job in something for which I have abilities, but I am not accepted because I have not already had that kind of job for years and years previous, or because I have no background in some brand-name systems or schools of training. My experiences have been labeled invalid,. counting for nothing, compared to more "professional" experiences .
I was desperate in 1 997, the one
hundredth anniversary of Stoker's novel; I had no idea if I would be able to
accomplish anything worthwhile. In April of
that year, one evening when I went to my family's for dinner, there was a magazine on a table in the next roan. The magazine was open to a full-page photo of two ballet dancers cast as Dracula and victim! The other page had "Dracula" in big letters and the name of still another ballet company, this time in Texas, performing the other Stoker ballet to mark the novel's hundredth anniversary! I howled upon seeing the picture; I was too upset to eat. This other company was being extolled in a magazine article for doing Dracula; I had never been publicized
in this manner! I was too distressed to notice the name and origin of the magazine, but it had chosen to extol a group headquartered far distantly. I wrote to this Texas company, sending them not just a letter but also copies of my news clippings, old programs, dated accordingly as proof of my long-time involvement. But the Texas company, like the other two, never answered my letter. When in New York, in the summer of 1997, a book came out compiling the first hundred years of the Dracula vampire myth and mentoring many impersonators of the character, I was not mentioned. .
"Because I have been thwarted, ignored, shortchanged, and put down all these years, never satisfying professionals, critics, never having been in world-class facilities or events, never having had so many of my creations performed even once, having been looked down upon for lack of valid experience, training, or stamps of approval, now having very little financial resource, having been through many required courses of action without obtaining the results that were supposed to be, mine is a very tragic tale, all the more tragic for risk of being regarded flippantly as just another miscellaneous sob story.
COPIES OF NEWSCLIPPINGS, OLD PROGRAMS, AND HANDBILLS, DATED ACCORDINGLY, ARE AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST.
BECAUSE MY DANCE VERSION OF THE STOKER NOVEL WAS NEVER PERFORMED, BUT SOMEDNE ELSE'S VERSION WAS, THE AUTHORITIES MIGHT MAKE THE DECISION THAT ONLY THE OTHER VERSION BE PERMITTED TO EXIST, SO THAT MY OTHER, EARLIER DRACULA DANCES BE OUTLAWED, THUS FORCING ME TO GIVE UP DANCE PORTRAYAL OF DRACULA FOREVER.
I am now in a very perilous situation, having arrived there via efforts and ill fortunes that are beyond belief. I have exhausted many of my resources. Am I going to end up dying just another Jane Doe, with just another miscellaneous grave, with future generations never knowing of all my struggles, or never knowing I ever existed?
Suzanne's historical, fact based fashion show. Photographed at one of the Creation Conventions
Spectrum The Ghost King Vlad
The Impaler / Dracula
Mermaids Supergirl Catwoman Figure Jogger Irish Cinderella