The tale of the quintessential vampire, Dracula, has been told many a time and in many a medium.  Indeed, it is one of those narratives which, for the spectator, merge into a long genealogy of receptions and reproductions. This genealogy disables us from distinguishing the history of reception from the story itself. This position of a story entrapped between narrative and its reception presents anyone contributing to this genealogy a double challenge: not only conversing with the characters and bringing them to life, but conversing with all the other storytellers who have done so before. Mark Bruce does so beautifully in this new production of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The story draws upon prominent anxieties in the fin de siècle: fear of change in women’s power and agency; fear of sexuality, in particular feminine sexuality; and the fine line between passionate love and hate, moving from the honeymoon suite to the grave, literally and figuratively. All those fears are explored and elaborated in various scenes of this piece, which shift swiftly from tender love duets to moments of uncontrollable passion, movement leading to collapse, gentleness into ferocious anger. The choreography unravels through many registers and utilizes well a cast of skilled dancers. A special mention should go to Jonathan Goddard, whose sculpted facial expression and fluid movement both frighten and evoke compassion, getting the audience really involved in the narrative. The set is stunning and the lighting, in particular, brings the production to life, or rather, at times, to death, hinting at twists of the plot and demanding attention to subtle nuances within the unravelling narrative.

But there is something else, much more fascinating and exciting going on in this production, beyond yet another vampire tale. The production seems to be asking questions about the medium itself, the emergence of the horror film as a genre and Modern dance as a mode of expression. The use of the flickering light as well as well-known references to silent film create a complex piece, which shifts the spectator back and forth from references well entrenched in them, of any vampire-horror-sex-madness film they have ever watched, to the story being re-enacted on stage. The mobilization of aesthetic clichés (lots of blood, graves that open, candles, and gothic chamber maids) and subtle lighting make this work far denser than it may seem at first sight. My favourite scene perhaps was a slightly comic, out of place, movement sequence, performed by Dracula and his three chamber maids, in which he leaves momentarily the need to be frightening and becomes a Charlie Chaplinesque character, dancing to a cheerful song and poking fun at himself but also at the long heritage of Draculas who mobilized all those clichés he is now running through. Indeed, the emergence of silent film and gothic as a genre has historical proximity to the emergence of Modern dance as a discipline, telling tales in movement that does not emerge from classical ballet as a technique; in Jacques Rancière’s latest book Aisthesis his discussion of Loie Fuller precedes that of Charlie Chaplin, making dance an indispensable part of thinking about the emergence of silent film. This work makes us think of the reverse relationship.

Mark Bruce’s Dracula is not only an evening of entertainment in itself (who doesn’t like a bit of vampire love?) but, with further thought, a clever blend of genre and medium.

Dana Mills

6th November 2013

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