In recently reviewing Mark Bruce Companyâ€™s Dracula, dance writer Graham Watts concluded that heâ€™d love to see it at Sadlerâ€™s Wells:Â â€œIt is where it ought to be.â€ These were exactly my thoughts as I left Londonâ€™s ArtsDepot last month. Not that this faraway theatre isn’t aÂ perfect spot: indeed on aÂ cold, wintry evening,Â North Finchley does conjure up the foggy, mysterious London of Bram Stokerâ€™s tale. I also heard its predecessor, Wilton Music Hall, exuded an even more authentic Victorian feel as the productionâ€™s first home. But ultimately, Sadlerâ€™s Wells, or even Londonâ€™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 Stokerâ€™s novel, with all the correspondence and diary entries, so well realised by CoppolaÂ in his 1992 film (a longtime favorite for me). Then, thereâ€™s also the camp element, into which any characterisation can easily fall, especially those that show the count as a languid, lustful creature, completeÂ with cloak, widowâ€™s peak, red lips and blood dripping from his fangs (in the traditionÂ of Bela LugosiÂ 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,Â and all that.Â Although this Dracula still exudes sex appeal, he seems world-weary and sometimes ill at ease in his skin. Sometimes, heâ€™s truly terrifying and otherworldly in his frenzied movements, sometimes he seems human and sympathetic. Itâ€™s as much a perfect role for the naturally versatile and lyrical Goddard, as Gregor Samsa (fromÂ Arthur Pitaâ€™s Metamorphosis) was for Edward Watson.
Although Mark Bruceâ€™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 Whelanâ€™s The Preacher and the Bear performed by the count himself, and even Lord Arthur Holmwood (here simply, â€œA Lordâ€) breaks into song when proposing to Lucy.
The brides of Dracula are lush and menacing vixens, moving in fluid, balletic style. They invoke a â€œGreek Chorusâ€, creating smooth scene transitions, and are also the messengers who deliver Jonathanâ€™s letters to Mina. The entire cast seems fully committed to the piece, with Joe Walking (A Doctor) perfectly capturingÂ the mannerisms and quirks weâ€™d expect from the obsessive doctor Jack Seward. The score, a mix of classical and contemporary music, was suitablyÂ atmospheric and reminded me at times of the dreamy dark pop ofÂ My Bloody Valentine (now there’s an idea!).
There is currently an interesting debate among some of Londonâ€™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 Bruceâ€™s Dracula is a great example of clear storytelling in dance: thereâ€™s nothing that feels out of place or indulgent, and nothing is lost in translation.