tue 23/07/2024

Dracula, Mark Bruce Company, Tobacco Factory, Bristol | reviews, news & interviews

Dracula, Mark Bruce Company, Tobacco Factory, Bristol

Dracula, Mark Bruce Company, Tobacco Factory, Bristol

Vampire classic with a dance theatre twist

Jonathan Goddard as Dracula, Kristin McGuire as Lucy WestenraFarrows Creative

The rich cocktail of sex, bestiality and possession that lies at the heart of the vampire myth is a perennial crowd-pleaser, a surefire frightener set in an all-too-familiar discomfort zone. Mark Bruce’s rich and reference-laden take on Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic presents a Transylvanian count who is both Everyman and Other.

There is something of the passionate bloodsucker in every moment that each of us surrenders to the darkest and most lustful animal forces that lurk beneath the veneer of civility. Bruce’s powerful new piece of dance theatre playfully explores this notion of the inner vampire with a mix of grand guignol hi-jinx and serious intent.

Dance theatre is less abstract than most contemporary dance: there is plenty of emotion and narrative, even if the strands of story are held together by allusive poetic association rather than straight-arrrow logic. This version of Stoker’s story – the literary original something of a disjointed collage – works less well when it is bound by conventions of step-by-step storytelling. There are some clunky transitions in the first half of the show and Jonathan Harker’s ride up to the castle of horrors, in a static coach led by horse-headed dancers whose movements feel contrived, is not as convincing as some captivating moments of choreography, when body language, free of literal or literary burdens, suggests so much more.

When he dances, it's as if he were haunted through every cell of his body with carnal desire

Jonathan Goddard, who plays the count, steals the show. He has a gaunt and chiseled physiognomy that fits the part, and he manages to move and act in a way that subtly evokes an unholy mixture of profound melancholy, vulnerability and ferocity. Whenever he dances, there is a sense of danger tinged with infinite sadness, as if he were haunted through every cell of his body with an excess of carnal desire. And when he stops, the slightest move of his head, shoulder or arm speaks volumes in terms of trapped emotion.

The other dancers are not quite in his league, although Eleanor Duval as Mina Harker and Kristin McGuire as Lucy Westenra are both first class. The dances that evoke the passion of sexual embrace, laced with voracious blood-sucking, are all riveting while only just steering clear of gross excess, but the story is, after all, about the gross rather than the refined. Mark Bruce’s allusions to Victorian music hall humour and bawdiness fit very neatly into his always thought-provoking exploration of the Dracula myth.

Dracula (Jonathan Goddard) and Mina Harker (Eleanor Duval)The production is steeped in references – sometimes playfully ironic - to fin-de-siècle sensibilities, for this is a period-piece, filled with the  dominant obsessions of the moment when Freud popularized the idea of the unconscious and the primacy of sexual desire: the hysterical writhing of the vampire brides and Lucy Westenra, histrionic women’s poses reminiscent of the Swiss symbolist Ferdinand Holder, who was in turn inspired by the stylised dance-work of Dalcroze. The show is graced with a startling but always well-chosen variety of music, which plays a crucial part in supercharging the dancers’ intense performances: from Schnittke’s dramatic 4th Symphony to moody drones by guitarist Fred Frith. Ligeti’s second String Quartet, all angles and dissonance, enhances the noir-ish expressionism of the piece.

It came to mind, while watching this highly original show, how much the Dracula story is connected to the myth of Dionysus, the Greek god of the life force, reborn like Jesus, and whose Maenad followers devour raw flesh. Connected to madness, possession and theatre, he is also the Lord of the Dance, a cousin of Shiva, and the mix of darkness and celebration at the heart of Mark Bruce’s production, expressed through a wide range of movement vocabulary, goes way beyond the merely grisly depiction of a vampire count from the Balkans.

The mix of darkness and celebration at the heart of Mark Bruce’s production goes way beyond the merely grisly depiction of a vampire count from the Balkans


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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