Children of the Night: Dracula by DanceXchange and the Mark Bruce Company

draculaAs we near the end of October, the time for spooks and ghouls draws ever closer, and what better way to get ready for Halloween than with the Mark Bruce Company’s award-winning production of Dracula?

Formed in 1991 by internationally acclaimed director, dancer and choreographer Mark Bruce, the Mark Bruce Company quickly made its name on innovation in performance, subverting expectations by breaking conventions of style and genre. Having won the South Bank Sky Arts Award for Dance in January, Dracula is no exception.

Packed full of tricks and treats galore, this Dracula is a gloriously chaotic fusion of dance, music and theatrical styles, as eclectic as the many adaptations of Bram Stoker’s story have been over the years. And it draws on all of them, from the original text, through Hammer Horror, right up to more recent, self-sufficient reimaginings of Mina Harker in comics and on TV, with many scenes that could just as easily have been taken from a silent movie as from a live dance production.

The show opens with a menacing, otherworldly incarnation of its title character, running through eerie moonlight with seemingly superhuman speed. At this point he disturbs us – he is a being more monster than man, more muscular than feeling. Later, however, the strange, slippery Count (played with a breathtaking energy and mind-boggling adaptability by Jonathan Goddard) becomes comical, breaking into a hilarious tap-dancing routine that seems to come out of nowhere, before showing a moment of fragility when attacked by Jonathan Harker (Wayne Parsons), simultaneously acknowledging the often ridiculous nature of melodramatic gothic horror, as well nodding to the more sympathetic vampires to which we’ve recently become accustomed in teen fiction and angsty television shows. Like Gary Oldman’s 1992 Dracula, he’s also romantic, sometimes seeming to feel a genuine connection to Mina, portrayed by Eleanor Duval with an irresistible earnestness. But even in these quieter, more sentimental moments, we’re ever aware of his awesome power and the danger of giving in to his charm: his vampire brides, here a kind of tortured chorus leading us through the story, serve as a potent reminder of the consequences of trusting him too far. Nevertheless, its easy to forgive his victims their weaknesses. As ever, Dracula is disturbingly alluring, an intensely sexual nightmare creature born of painfully repressed desire. While Lucy Westenra (Kristin McGuire) may wear her lust on her sleeve, it is Mina who responds more passionately to the vampire’s advances, her loneliness and isolation strengthening her yearning for his attention.

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For all that, to infer from this that Mark Bruce’s Dracula is purely derivative would be grossly unfair: though it may well suck up essential elements from other, pre-existing Draculas, much like the woman who ultimately emerges as its unlikely heroine, it comes away from these other, undying versions as its own beast entirely.

This is the real triumph of the show: unlike almost any other interpretation of the story, it hints at some hope of escape for Mina Harker, leaving her in a refreshingly ambiguous position when the lights go down. Almost literally torn apart by the whore, wife and virgin archetypes that are forced upon her, this is a Mina that somehow manages to defy them all, and to do so on her own terms. As the show ends with her leaning over the dying vampire, surrounded by men eager to destroy the threat he represents, we can’t quite be sure what her final decision will be, or, indeed, whether it will involve any of the men who wait for it. What we can surmise, however, is that Mina Harker’s future is very much in her own hands.

Dracula will be showing again in Hippodrome’s Patrick Centre at 8pm tonight. For more information and to book, visit the DanceXchange website, or check out the Mark Bruce Company‘s site for full tour dates.

 

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