Northern Ballet's Dracula: sadly disappointing
By Timea Koppandi
Images courtesy of Marlowetheatre.com
‘Step into the world of Dracula— if you dare.”
We took the advertisement to task and found ourselves seated at 7:30 PM in
Marlowe theatre, ready to immerse ourselves in the story of famous Count Dracula, as told through dance. The evening began full of expectations; the poster for the production advertised a very progressive image for ballet: Dracula was black, and he had dreadlocks. It was a sight we were all looking forward to see, and sadly one that escaped us when the show started; someone who was not on the poster appeared on stage. Javier Torres, who played the young Dracula, had a spectacular performance, his movements filled with precision. Seeing as this role demands a high amount of physical energy, we understood that there is a need of rotation in between dancers. However, considering that it was the night of the premiere, it was disappointing not seeing Mlindi Kulashe, the dancer advertised on the posters, perform.
Despite this, not only was the promise of a diverse cast maintained, but the
dancer’s bodily movements captivatingly brought the role to life. We watched as an old version of Dracula (Riku Ito) broke free from the mountains of Transylvania. The imagery was beautiful, the use of the décor certainly played into this scene and his movements were impressive, often resembling an animal. This was one of the spectacular moments of the evening. The story followed a dark and sinister Dracula infiltrating human society. The opening scene was a mixture of chaos and we watched Jonathan, the young English lawyer, battle with the understanding of what was fantasy and what was reality. He’s drawn into his mind and begins to hallucinate about his beloved (Mina), whom Dracula too takes an interest in. Here, the choreography did very little to explain the story. The stage was filled with gracious movements which seemed to have no place in the story, nor help the progression of it. The first part of the ballet passed by quite uninterestingly, leaving us to try and work out what was actually happening.
The romance came thereafter and, we’re sorry to say, it wasn’t the best love story we’ve witnessed. Lucy’s (Antoinette Brooks-Daw) story of bewitchment and misfortune as she was caught unaware (we won’t question what she was doing in a cemetery in the middle of the night) by the malevolent vampire, was far more interesting to watch. She has overtaken the stage with spectacular movements, very well executed, that seemed to overflow into one another. Watching the bright red-haired woman battle against what she was becoming raised the question of Dracula’s attraction towards Mina (Abigail Prudames), a character who essentially embodies the stereotype of a ‘proper woman’, one that despite being captured by a dark vampire, is still innocent and desired by her male suitors.
The progression of the story was unimpressive, often felt like the character’s decisions were flat and acting more like plot devices rather than people. The confusion caused by certain plot faults was also mirrored by the music. Sadly, it was a very unsuccessful score for a ballet. The mixture of four composers (Schnittke, Pärt, Rachmaninov and Daugherty) didn’t favour the representation of Dracula. There were some parts that fitted the dark, gothic atmosphere, however for the majority of the story the orchestral arrangement distracted the viewer and caused them to pay less attention to what was happening on stage. It built up the reader’s attention and gave the impression that a major plot twist will happen, only to follow a regular scene. Music in theatre has a particular importance. It is one of the key elements that translates the atmosphere to the viewer, alerting them when something important will happen. Another issue was the dancers waiting for the music to start in-between scenes, and as a result, a gap was created by a space which brought the viewer back to reality, instead of keeping them in the story.
When it comes to choreography and costume, many of their stylistic choices were quite poor. The cast did a brilliant job and their movements were beautifully executed, especially those of Antoinette Brooks-Daw and Javier Torres. His movements were perfectly executed, it’s just a shame that they were very repetitive and began to bore the viewer. The typical vampire hiss has been used excessively, and often in moments which really didn’t require it. Kevin Poeung, playing Renfield also impressed us, with his abrupt movements and excellent acting skills.
The biggest disappointment when it came to choreography were the scenes where the group of men formed by Lorenzo Trossello, Joseph Taylor, Mathew Koon and Ashely Dixon were performing. The choreography was far too jolly in moments when the atmosphere was sorrowful. Towards one of the ending scenes, where they perform a dance which instantly made us think of West Side Story – not the result they expected we assume – they were unsynchronized and it caused us to focus on only one dancer, as well as diminishing the effect they would have created.
Overall the costumes were alright, with one exception. When Mina returns to Transylvania, she is wearing something that looks more Asian rather than Eastern European, as well as the brides of Dracula. As a native Transylvanian, I (Timea) would have appreciated if it would have resembled some national costumes at the time of the story. I acknowledge that the reason for these outfits might have been to create a sense of mystery, however I think that it would have been of greater effect to portray something which could seem plausible. Also, there was an impractical use of space when it came to décor. It often felt like we were watching a rehearsal rather than a show, with times when the stage was left empty.
Overall, this performance contained a degree of disappointment, especially since we have expected something different, such as a more innovative take on the story of Dracula. We acknowledge the hard work of the dancers and all of those on the production, however, in our opinion, this performance has a lot to improve on.