Dracula: Northern Ballet

Northern Ballet make their first foray into live cinema screenings this year, and hats off to them for making such a marketable choice – who wouldn’t be tempted by seeing Dracula at Halloween? I certainly was! This small but brilliant company deserve a wider audience, and this broadcast live from Leeds Playhouse should certainly help to broaden their reach.

Unfortunately, David Nixon’s ballet retelling of Dracula isn’t really to my taste – it plays up to all the clichés and deviates wildly from the plot of Bram Stoker’s novel. I feel like Dracula suffers from the same curse as Frankenstein or Wuthering Heights – they are all bedded into the cultural mindset thanks to countless bad TV and film adaptations, rather than because of the popularity of or familiarity with the original texts. (If this makes me sound like a snob, fine. I’m embracing it.)

The ballet’s opening is promising – we first see Dracula as a grotesque, animalistic being, danced with fabulous physicality by soloist Riku Ito. He crawls around the stage, eyes rolling and bloodstained mouth gaping, genuinely the stuff of nightmares. But once he has fed off of the unfortunate Jonathan Harker, the inhuman demon transforms into the familiarly suave count with slicked back hair, swishing cape and flashing fangs. There is nothing wrong with Javier Torres’ performance, but the air of camp Hammer horror is inescapable.

Nixon’s choreography is imaginatively distinct for the different characters – Dracula and his brides (an insatiable trio who prey on Harker in a cleverly worked pas de quatre) spend a lot of time on the floor level; the incarcerated Renfield climbs inside and over his cage; the upstanding Victorian characters bow, curtsey and waltz genteelly.

But it’s the pas de deux that are the high points – quite literally. Dracula’s duet with the possessed Lucy Westenra in a graveyard is a gasp-inducing showcase of athletic lifts, while the slow, hypnotic bedroom pas de deux with Mina (Abigail Prudames) is a masterclass in control. (It’s set to Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, which translated means ‘mirror in the mirror’ – an ironic choice given that vampires don’t have reflections).

Antoinette Brooks-Daw deserves a mention for her brilliant performance as the unfortunate Lucy. Her frantic madness in the party scene – reminiscent of Giselle – is not in the book, but is still enjoyable to watch. Each stage of her character’s descent into vampirism is marked with true dramatic flair, and her dancing is razor sharp.

But – at the risk of sounding like a puritan – the eroticisation of absolutely everything gets quite wearing. Dracula only feeds off Lucy in the missionary position, and Mina’s infatuation with the count is another addition to spice things up. Their ‘romantic’ storyline turns into a vampire/human Romeo and Juliet which culminates in Mina committing suicide when Dracula is finally conquered.

The ballet’s music is a mixture of existing pieces by different composers: dramatic choral and organ works, melodic waltzes, screeching violins and modern minimalism – it feels very thrown together and as such doesn’t always work.

The story is well-paced at first, but a rushed and confusing final few scenes makes for an anticlimactic ending (even with Mina’s sudden death).

Although Nixon’s choreography is on the whole impressive and the cast of dancers are excellent, this ballet has unfortunately been sexed up to the point of becoming ridiculous. It’s a melodramatic Gothic vision of lust and blood that feels unoriginal and not particularly creepy.

 

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