Though on a smaller scale, Scorpius Dance Theatre’s “A Vampire Tale” is rightfully considered the modern answer to that other popular holidaythemed dance staple, “The Nutcracker.”
Both, after all, are about a young girl who undergoes a transformation from adolescent curiosity to a kind of awakening. For “Nutcracker’s” Clara, that means a trip into a dream world of toy soldiers and gumdrops. For the necro-“Nutcracker” of “A Vampire Tale,” that means a murky journey into an underworld of vampires, ghouls and things that go bump — make that turn, bump-bump, arabesque, bump — in the night.
Now in its third year of pre-Halloween production at Phoenix Theatre’s Little Theatre black box space, “Vampire Tale,” choreographed by Scorpius founder Lisa Starry, is an artful piece of moderndance theater wrapped around a story best described thusly: A bored vampire called The Watcher (played by Lisa’s hubby, David Starry, as a little bit Uncle Fester, a little bit Lenny from “Of Mice and Men”) seduces a young girl and drags her back to his coven; there, she’s tossed into a batch of fellow victims while the assembled vamps proceed to, well … play with their food.
Against a soundtrack that combines electronic blips and scratches with classical (Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 2 will never afterward sound the same) and gothic mood music, “Vampire Tale” showcases Starry’s exotic, barefooted troupe in moody and occasionally breathtaking scenes — ranging from aerials on suspended strips of fabric to coffin-side seductions. (A favorite new addition is that of a vampire ballet, complete with pitch-black tutus.)
Mostly, though, the show is a chance for Starry to celebrate certain delicious juxtapositions: sultry sexiness and fun-house menace; dance that’s fluid one moment, herky-jerky the next; the earthbound and the airborne; the subtle and the overt. As graceful as the choreographer’s movements can be, she seems to relish contrasting them with the percussive sounds of bodies slapping hard against the floor.
And, it must be noted, she achieves a sublimely creepy sexuality using only the implications of dance. Much like classic horror movies that eschewed actual blood for the much more effective imaginations of audiences, Starry lets us fill in the blanks without breaking a PG rating.
The Scorpius troupe is in fine form here, dramatically more polished than in years past. Nancy Lynn Miller is pitch-perfect as the young girl drawn into the vampires’ world, and Nicole Olson is a spooky, lithe beauty as the queen of the coven.
The only stumbling block for “Vampire Tale” remains the narrative text that punctuates each scene, written by local playwright Raymond Shurtz. Though it’s a nice touch, this year, to have actor Gregg Temple speaking the words dolled up like a circus ringleader in Hades, Shurtz’s stabs at gothic poeticism nevertheless often reek of cheesy high school effluvia. It’s the only thing about the show that often comes off as hokey. (And I bet it could do without it just fine.)
Still, even with its cornon-the-macabre narrative, “A Vampire Tale” is — you guessed it — a bloody good time.
‘A Vampire Tale’
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, closing Nov. 4
Where: Phoenix Theatre’s Little Theatre, 100 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix
Information: (602) 258-9511 or www.scorpiusdance.com