Music: Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Pärt, Michael Daugherty, Sergei Rachmaninov
Choreographer and Director: David Nixon
Reviewer: Ruth Jepson
From Twilight, to Vampire Diaries via True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there’s no denying that the undead are big business. With all the modern incarnations of vampiric deeds, it’s often easy to forget where it all began. Although tales of vampires have been around for centuries, few would disagree that Dracula is the bat who kicked them into the mainstream in 1897. It’s a story that has been told in books, TV shows, film and theatre many times, and now Northern Ballet are adding another genre – dance. First performed by the company in 2009, this retelling of Dracula does change the story slightly, but mostly to make it more accessible as a ballet. Northern Ballet have been running since 1969 and are often praised for bringing the art form to those who might normally be put off by complicated plots or foreign tales.
Dracula is a performance which is always going to have to be judged by its titular character. Ably danced by Tobias Batley, Dracula does exude a power which should win over any audience, and it does seep through Batley’s soles as he strides around. However, a number of things spoil the effect he works hard to build up. First and foremost is the design of the character. The greased back, black hair; the velvet cape; and the iconic widows peak are all present, but unfortunately we’ve all seen too many 50s B movies for it to look anything other than slightly dated. We need a sexier Dracula for 2014 (although his aesthetics improve dramatically in Act 2 when he gets rid of the balloon sleeved shirt). There’s also the issue of his shuffling across the stage en pointe. While choreographer David Nixon was presumably trying to give the impression of floating, it just looks comical, and slightly tacky – enough so that the audience are openly laughing at it by the end of the show.
Despite that though, Batley is an amazing dancer, and he does transcend these flaws. The story has been edited slightly to include more of a love story between Dracula and Mina (Martha Leebolt), and their duets alone are worth the ticket price. The dance in Act 2 is particularly mesmerising, and you can genuinely see the passion conveyed through the dancers bodies.
For the other stars of the show we need to look to some of the lesser characters. A pure joy to watch is Kevin Poeung, playing the insane Renfield. His manic movements and contortions should not be possible by a mere human, and here the costume is spot on, with buckled trousers that jingle in a way hauntingly reminiscent of his asylum chains. Similar praise must go to Rachael Gillespie, Jessica Morgan and Hannah Bateman who play the Brides of Dracula. Their movements are so fluid and in sync that these three women could almost be one dancer, simply beautiful to watch move. A final mention must go to set designer Ali Allen and Lighting Designer Tim Mitchell. The gothic set pieces intersected by bands of light give the whole piece the most perfect atmosphere.
Dracula is a stunningly pretty show, with amazing costumes and a fabulous degree of talent from all members of the cast. For the uninitiated into ballet it is a good beginning point for experiencing the genre. Just maybe look at something else when Dracula starts his sideways truffle shuffle across the stage…
Runs until: Saturday 13th September