Director and choreographer: Mark Bruce
Reviewer: Natalie Barker
As Halloween approaches, nothing could make for a scarier or more atmospheric evening’s entertainment than this theatrical dance version of Dracula in the spook-tacular Wilton’s Music Hall. And it’s something to really sink one’s teeth into – the Mark Bruce Company gives the audience a lot more than set piece dances to menacing music; the complex novel is filleted for juicy bits but held together with a strong narrative and the dances are weaved together with expository movements which take the story forward smoothly and coherently.
The nature of dance, the physical contact and sensuous movement, means that the story has had to be reimagined and some of the latent themes brought to the fore. Dracula as the Victorian novel is full of the fear of female sexuality at a time where women were beginning to be freed from some of the constraints of the past. Unlike the novel, the dance cannot keep these fears suppressed or locked up in the private thoughts of the characters and this only enhances the power of the piece for a modern audience. The visitations of Dracula are erotically charged as the dancers writhe and prostrate themselves in a travesty of amorous excitement. But this physicality also reveals something about Dracula; perhaps his voracity is an exaggerated version of the human need for intimacy and reciprocated desire. The message here is that this unrestrained desire is not only indecent but downright deadly and this is delivered with clarity by the contrast between Mina and Jonathan’s chaste leave-taking dance in Act I and the sensual and violent dance of Mina and the Vampire Count as he takes her for his bride.
The performance offers a series of memorably freakish tableaux which, like the best horror films, hint at evil and let the imagination do the rest. At the very beginning of Act I we have Dracula out hunting with his wolfish henchmen. He brings back his quarry in a black sack for his harem of vampire brides. As the sound of a baby crying emerges from the sack we understand just what that small bundle contains – the scene is enveloped in darkness as the brides circle their prize. All the best scenes feature Jonathan Goddard’s Dracula, not only because his demonic movements are realistically tortured and beautiful, but because he creates the best type of horror character, one that we are drawn to and enchanted by despite his despicableness. He has a cheeky glint in his eye and his music hall turn where he apes a Victorian gentleman – complete with tap dancing, top hat and cane – is wickedly funny. Eleanor Duval as Mina and Kristin McGuire as Lucy more than deserve a mention for their bewitching performances as do the dancers who play three vampire brides. Hannah Kidd is especially enticing yet dastardly.
The Company achieves a lot with a small stage and Phil Edolls’ simple wrought iron set which conjures Dracula’s Transylvanian abode in all its cobwebby eeriness. Much is achieved with impressive costumes from Dorothee Brodruck and genius puppetry and masks from Pickled Image. Leathery black wolf and horse masks are uncanny and menacing and, when combined with the slinky movements of the dancers, are icily chilling. Yet the horse-drawn carriage ride through the woods with the wolves in violent pursuit is perhaps the least effective scene of the performance. The movements are brilliant – horse-like and wolf-like as well as graceful and fluid – but the overall effect is messy and chaotic. And there are other aspects of the piece that are less than polished; the scene changes are loud and clunky and curiously attention is drawn to them as they are accompanied by awkward gaps in the music. At other times props are moved clumsily about or tripped over so that the clattering noise in the background breaks the spell the enchanting dancers are working so hard to sustain.
Even if the end product is a little rustic, Mark Bruce’s Dracula is a triumph of style and substance; a beautiful piece of storytelling and an enchanting showcase of dance talent.