Sunday, 14 September 2014


Dracula as depicted in the cinema: Béla Lugosi in the 1931 film
Photo Wikipedia

Northern Ballet's Dracula, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds 13 Sep 2014

Although I am a Friend of Northern Ballet I had intended to give Dracula a miss, I have never been able to get into Bram Stoker's novel and I have never watched a horror film in the cinema or on TV. To my mind there are enough frightening things in reality without paying to be frightened synthetically.  Also, I had intended to be in Holland yesterday for the opening night of Dutch National Ballet's season and Van Dantzig's Swan Lake tonight but for various reasons that was not to be. So I went to West Yorkshire Playhouse instead and am very glad I did for I was rewarded with a magnificent performance.

As the theatre had run out of programmes I had to remember the plot from the website scenario which is schematic to say the least. The story is convoluted which is one of the reasons why I have never been able to finish the novel. All I could remember last night is that an assistant solicitor called Jonathan Harker found himself in Transylvania  where he encounters the evil count Dracula in his castle and gets into all sorts of trouble which follows him back to England. I also remembered that the novel had a connection with Whitby for which reason it attracts the attention of the modern Goths. However, I could not remember how the other characters fitted into the story so I concentrated on the choreography and the dancing which were stunning.

Created originally for Ballet Met  in Columbus, Ohio in 1999 this ballet was choreographed, directed and in part designed by David Nixon (see the Information Pack) who brought it to Northern Ballet in 2005 (see "Dracula 2005 - From the Archive"). You can get a flavour of the work from this YouTube video of a rehearsal:

The ballet hangs around Dracula, Mina, Harker and Lucy danced impressively by Javier Torres, Dreda Blow, Antoinette Brookes-Daw and Joseph Taylor with strong supporting performances by Lucia Solari, Jessica Morgan and Mariana Rodrigues as the brides of Dracula oozing sex and menace in equal measure, Seward (Nicola Gervasi), Holmwood (Isaac Lee-Baker) and Van Helsing (Matthew Broadbent). A special word of praise for Kevin Poeung who danced Renfield, a psychiatric patient confined to a cage tormented by his warder (Jeremy Cunier) who exploded into frenzy when released from his confinement.

The set, costume and lighting designs were imaginative. I was particularly impressed with Lucy's rose lid coffin and the horses of the night. The score by Alfred Schnitke and arranged by Mikhail Popov varied from the lyrical such as Mina's entry to the unearthly such as her pas de deux with Dracula. Nobody left the theatre humming the score but it worked very well.

West Yorkshire Playhouse is a few hundred yards from the company's headquarters at Quarry Hill so it is a special place for them and also for their audiences. Something magical often happens on the last night of their season in this theatre. It did last year (see "Realizing Another Dream" 15 Sept 2013) and it also did last night. The crowd roared and at least half of us (including me) rose to our feet. On the way out I said goodnight to Janet McNulty whom I know from Balletcoforum. "Aren't you glad you came here tonight?" she asked. "Indeed, I am" I replied, "It might have been as good in Amsterdam but couldn't have been better."

Other Reviews
Luke Jennings  Northern Ballet: Dracula review – lashings of gothic coupling 14 Sept 2014 The Guardian
Janet McNulty BalletcoForum 14 Sept 2014

Further Reading

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