Fletcher Opera Theater, Raleigh

Through Sunday, Oct. 27

At Fletcher Opera Theater, the stage is split by a series of symbols. First, a simple wooden crucifix divides the backdrop. Then, that cross is replaced with the bloody, hanging corpse of Victor Frankenstein’s bride. Finally, a tragic tableau sits center stage: Frankenstein’s broken body, his grieving monster, and two sylphs representing good and evil arranged in a final position of remorse.

To be clear, the first crucifix doesn’t come from the premiere of Frankenstein, the new work by Carolina Ballet’s artistic director, Zalman Raffael. Instead, it features in the piece that opens the evening: founding artistic director Robert Weiss’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a short ballet set to a J. Mark Scearce-created musical version of a Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem.

This playful yet haunting piece primes the palate for Frankenstein. There’s a European-folk-dance-reminiscen wedding, the death of the magical Albatross (a flitting Margaret Severin-Hansen), and a pas de deux between two skeletal sailors (a wickedly powerful Kiefer Curtis and Lara O’Brien). All of these elements combine to create a spooky teaser for the horrors that await in Frankenstein.

After intermission, the tale of the doomed Victor Frankenstein and his Monster begins. The ballet follows the book’s order, and we look on as Victor sews together his half-man, expels him from the lab, and then is slain by his handiwork. From his first appearance as Victor, Yevgeny Shlapko commands the stage with sustained jumps and soulful emotion, and Shlapko brings Victor’s journey from cocky boy to regretful mad scientist to life with sizzling energy.

It’s a fervor matched flawlessly by Marcelo Martinez’s Monster, and the chemistry between the two steals the show; in repeated pas de deux, Shlapko’s bounding, often-manic movement is marvelously offset by Martinez’s tortured long lines and lumbering yet slinky choreography.

Along with this magnetic man-versus-monster battle, Raffael adds more tension with Good (Ashley Hathaway) and Evil (Alyssa Pilger), who are visual representations of the Monster’s impulses. Hathaway and Pilger seem more ghostly than human, with their otherworldly port de bras and days-long extensions while cloaked in long mesh veils. Jan Burkhard’s performance as Victor’s bride, Elizabeth, is another powerful female role; her demure, sustained balances and joyful presence leave the audience all the more heartbroken by her eventual fate.

Along with Scearce’s eerie music—an unsettling mixture of violin, organ, and xylophone—the dancers’ passionate performances carry the audience seamlessly through to the close of Frankenstein, when the journey to the land of monsters is ended with the simple, harrowing positioning of the Monster, flanked by Good and Evil and bowed over his creator’s corpse. You’ll come for the Halloween-worthy tale and stay for the sinister score, provocative choreography, and thoughtful performances.

Correction: Zalman Raffael is Carolina Ballet’s artistic director, not its resident choreographer. 

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