Dracula (Northern Ballet) – Review – Leeds Playhouse
By Gail Schuster, October 2019
How appropriate in the week of Halloween that Northern Ballet’s first production in the newly refurbished Leeds Playhouse should be Dracula.
The production broadly follows the story of the book, written by Irish writer Bram Stoker in 1897 whilst staying in Whitby. David Nixon, OBE, who is the artistic director of Northern Ballet, first created this Gothic show in 2005. During the intervening years there has been several revivals, each with its own changes. Soloist, Riku Ito’s opening performance of old Dracula was both spellbinding and dramatic and is one of the alterations to this version.
It is interesting that Nixon says, “my starting point for the creation of Dracula was the duet between Dracula and Mina where they give into their feelings… and deny their true natures,” as this pas de deux to ‘Spiegel im Spiegel’ by Arvo Pärt, was my favourite scene. The dancing was both sensuous and tender which was in stark contrast to much of the production.
The tale starts with Jonathan Harker visiting the Count at his castle in Transylvania to provide him with legal support for a real estate transaction. Harker realises Dracula is a vampire and following his departure for England manages to escape the castle and the clutches of three seductive, female succubi.
Harker’s fiancée, Mina, is holidaying in Whitby with her friend Lucy, coincidentally where the boat carrying the blood sucking visitor crashes. Lucy is being courted by three men, one of whom is the rejected Dr Seward. Dracula contacts Renfield, Seward’s disturbed patient, who eats living things believing he can get their life force.
The clever doctor detects the monster’s influence. Meanwhile, poor Lucy is being lured by the creature of the night and subsequently, her behaviour is becoming more outlandish as a result of his power over her. The vampire is falling in love with Mina but cannot bite her. He is tortured by the effect Mina has on him and as a result ill-fated Lucy suffers his retribution.
Following questioning Renfield reveals the vampire’s hiding place and the men then destroy the crates of unhallowed earth where he has been sleeping. Dracula, wearied, seeks out Mina to take his revenge. Fortunately for Mina, the heroes arrive, and the evil Count flees. Van Helsing then leads them all on a mission to liberate the world from him.
Kevin Poeung, danced the part of the tortured and troubled Renfield whose remarkable performance was well received by the audience. The dancing was contemporary with a contorted feel. Poeung’s make up and costume also added to the impression of him being a victim of Victorian asylums as much as the vampiric Count.
Two particularly excellent pieces of theatre were when old Dracula metamorphoses into a younger version and the puppetry with the horses of the night. Javier Torres who performed as young Dracula, oozed menace and charm and danced his role convincingly. He also had an enormous cape to handle which he did so with aplomb; using it to look bat like at times but also elegant and captivating.
The eerie sets creating a crumbling castle, a crypt, a graveyard, designed by Ali Allen, perfectly set the ambience for this dark ballet as do the copious amounts of dry ice. Lighting is cleverly used throughout, often dark and brooding but at times startlingly bright like in the ballroom at Lucy and Arthur’s engagement party, adding to and mirroring the mood of the scene.
This is a very entertaining, if not traditional ballet, and people looking for a bit of Victorian Gothic will not be disappointed. There is vampiric charm, sophistication and very good dancing in abundance.
If you have been unable to secure a ticket to see this wonderful production of Dracula, then you will you have another opportunity on Halloween, as it will be broadcast live to cinemas across the UK. This will be the first time a Northern Ballet production will have been live streamed to cinema.
images: Emma Kauldhar