For a contemporary dance piece, Marc Bruce Company’s Dracula is very faithful to Bram Stoker’s epistolary, fragmented novel. With vampires being such sexual, animalistic and mystic creatures the piece could have easily been much more thematic or conceptual, but the company took a far more ambitious route by creating a fluent adaptation of the whole narrative.
Dracula is the story of a reclusive vampire who decides to interfere with the lives of solicitor Jonathan Harker and his fiancé, Mina, with fatal consequences. After Jonathan travels to Transylvania to help with legal matters he finds himself prisoner in Dracula’s castle and almost succumbs to the spell of Dracula’s three brides. Dracula then travels to England to track down Mina and her friend Lucy Westenra. The latter becomes a vampire but is eventually put to rest with a stake through her heart. Meanwhile Dracula feeds from Mina and creates a forceful connection between the two of them – only broken by Dracula’s murder.
In this adaptation Dracula’s three Vampire Brides, although not protagonists, were essential throughout the piece: sprinkling cursed confetti on newly-wed Jonathan & Mina, serving poisoned tea to Lucy Westenra and her suitors, and then mischievously mourning at her rainy funeral. They were strongly evocative of Macbeth’s Three Sisters, often seeming passive and witnessing action with a doomful presence, then appearing to be in charge of all the character’s fates.
The design was almost-Victorian with the male characters’ costumes following the fashions of the era more than the female characters, who looked strangely modern (probably due to the practicality of dancing in a crinoline or petticoats). Since it was only half era-specific and half not, the design could have gone for more of a purposeful mixing of the old and new: a steam-punk style would have been fantastic.
Nevertheless, Guy Hoare’s lighting was brilliantly dramatic; this was mostly achieved through side lighting creating small beams of light Dracula could slither in and out from, casting great shadows across his sinister face. Backlighting also added to the atmosphere by highlighting Dracula’s macabre silhouette.
Other than the leafy wrought iron gates standing upstage, the rest of the set got in the way and were cause for some clunky scene changes. In the first act a concerted effort was made to establish characters and their relationships, but this also made the pace drag a little and combined with the numerous props, set pieces and many scene changes the act was quite stuffy, but the second act was much better in this respect.
The choreography itself wasn’t gimmicky or trying to be particularly clever, it was simply very well composed moves that were true to the characters. The vampires writhed and hissed and were everything you would want them to be: tempting, unnerving, wicked and carnal. Mina’s character development, through 3 duets, was extremely articulate starting with a delicate and chaste dance with her fiancé, through to challenging Dracula to his deadly duelling dance. Dracula himself was spine-tingling, not over the top or cliché but the right balance of human and legend.
Although I would have wanted a little more left to the imagination, Dracula was a confident combination of theatre and dance.