In recently reviewing Mark Bruce Company’s Dracula, dance writer Graham Watts concluded that he’d love to see it at Sadler’s Wells: “It is where it ought to be.” These were exactly my thoughts as I left London’s ArtsDepot last month. Not that this faraway theatre isn’t a perfect spot: indeed on a cold, wintry evening, North Finchley does conjure up the foggy, mysterious London of Bram Stoker’s tale. I also heard its predecessor, Wilton Music Hall, exuded an even more authentic Victorian feel as the production’s first home. But ultimately, Sadler’s Wells, or even London’s West End, is where this captivating, haunting work should go next. It belongs in the best dance houses out there.
Making a dance work out of Dracula must be a very difficult task, so kudos to Mark Bruce for putting on such a show. First, there is the problem of the epistolary nature of Stoker’s novel, with all the correspondence and diary entries, so well realised by Coppola in his 1992 film (a longtime favorite for me). Then, there’s also the camp element, into which any characterisation can easily fall, especially those that show the count as a languid, lustful creature, complete with cloak, widow’s peak, red lips and blood dripping from his fangs (in the tradition of Bela Lugosi and, later, Christopher Lee).
I believe Mark Bruce, and his Dracula, Jonathan Goddard, succeed here because they go for a more melancholic aura, with tones of German expressionism, Nosferatu, and all that. Although this Dracula still exudes sex appeal, he seems world-weary and sometimes ill at ease in his skin. Sometimes, he’s truly terrifying and otherworldly in his frenzied movements, sometimes he seems human and sympathetic. It’s as much a perfect role for the naturally versatile and lyrical Goddard, as Gregor Samsa (from Arthur Pita’s Metamorphosis) was for Edward Watson.
Although Mark Bruce’s adaptation follows the text of the novel, there are plenty of quirky, creative moments. For instance, there is a music hall routine (a reference to Wilton Music Hall?) to Albert Whelan’s The Preacher and the Bear performed by the count himself, and even Lord Arthur Holmwood (here simply, “A Lord”) breaks into song when proposing to Lucy.
The brides of Dracula are lush and menacing vixens, moving in fluid, balletic style. They invoke a “Greek Chorus”, creating smooth scene transitions, and are also the messengers who deliver Jonathan’s letters to Mina. The entire cast seems fully committed to the piece, with Joe Walking (A Doctor) perfectly capturing the mannerisms and quirks we’d expect from the obsessive doctor Jack Seward. The score, a mix of classical and contemporary music, was suitably atmospheric and reminded me at times of the dreamy dark pop of My Bloody Valentine (now there’s an idea!).
There is currently an interesting debate among some of London’s dance critics, notably in recent pieces by Luke Jennings and Judith Mackrell, about the risks choreographers run when adapting narrative pieces without editorial assistance. Mark Bruce’s Dracula is a great example of clear storytelling in dance: there’s nothing that feels out of place or indulgent, and nothing is lost in translation.