Daring dance production to really sink your teeth into
Mark Bruce's company of ten exceptional dancers bring Bram Stoker's haunting, erotic tale Dracula to life in a heart wrenching and magical dance theatre production at Frome's Merlin Theatre on November 9 and 10.
Jonathan Goddard plays the infamous Count , whose sinister and ruthless ambitions challenge the very fabric of Victorian society. As his victims and opponents rally against him they must face the darkness and savagery within themselves.
With an eclectic mix of music from Bach and Mozart to Ligetti and Fred Frith, Bruce explores choreographic styles ranging from the subtlety of classical etiquette to visceral contemporary dance.
Mark Bruce tells us more about the production.
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When did you first read Dracula?
Mark: I was probably about nine or ten. I also read it again in my teens. I have glanced at it since then, but only returned to it properly over the last couple of years.
What effect did it have on you?
There is something that makes me never tire of it. It is a great story but it also has an elusive magic.
I think Dracula opens our imagination and dreams. As a novel its flaws, or simple omissions cause us to put ourselves inside the story.
It is a subtle tale and therefore almost believable – especially as it is written in journal form. I also find every time I go back to it there are things I haven't seen before. The fact that it is not a retrospective historical novel also adds to its feeling of authenticity – it is a product of its time – interested in what was prevalent in Victorian society – the emergence and interest in science, the effect of this on religion.
An interest in foreign travel. People's fears, taboos. The perception and place of women … The story is now so embedded in our minds it is difficult to stand back and look at it objectively, but in attempting to do so, one sees what a strange novel it is. It is also a subtly erotic novel, though it is impossible to know how much irony was intended by Stoker in all its sexual connotations. But underneath it all I think it is a story with a human heart.
Out of the films you've seen, do you have a favourite and/or is there one film you've used as a reference for your show?
The two versions of Nosferatu – the 1922 silent version directed by FW Murnau and the 1979 version directed by Werner Herzog featuring Klaus Kinski and Isabelle Adjani.
I also saw quite a faithful BBC version from the seventies, parts of which have stayed with me – apart from the seventies hair styles!
I love the early Hammer versions and Christopher Lee is great. It is hard to exorcise the image of him as Dracula when trying to picture the character. But I wouldn't say I am referencing any particular film.
Many films capture a magic in their own right, but I have gone back to Bram Stoker's novel and then allowed some influences to creep in – albeit subconsciously. In terms of colour and horror I think there is a Dario Argento influence there – though this is not from his Dracula film (which I haven't seen) but more films like Suspiria.
Interestingly I think an old Tom Baker Dr Who – The Talons of Weng Chiang has had a strong influence, particularly its use of light – or rather absence of – areas disappearing into darkness – and what rests there is our imagination.
This reminds me of the old Penny Bloods and Penny Dreadfuls – which have also had an influence on the production.
How long have you thought of making Dracula into a dance/theatre piece?
I used to draw comics of it all the time. This is long before thinking of a dance version which I've thought about since I started dancing in the late '80s.
And why do you think now is the right time?
I've been thinking of a dance version for many years, but I'd also love to do a straight film version as well – I don't know why the BBC hasn't done one for more than 30 years. But there were several things that pushed me to finally get it together.
The last three years I've been thinking more seriously about it and how to do it. When we performed at Wilton's Music Hall last year I thought – if you don't do your Dracula here you are aren't serious about doing it because this is the perfect venue. I also felt I had some of the cast in mind – at the right time in their careers.
Is your show the whole story or are you concentrating on a section of the story?
It is the whole story but I have made some cuts. It is impossible not to unless you are going to make a very long version. I also challenged myself to work without dialogue and I found a natural progression of this presented things that could be cut.
How did you cast your show?
I had about five dancers already in mind. Then I held an audition. Before thinking about Jonathan Goddard playing the role I hadn't decided if I wanted to use an actor or a dancer. The idea of a dancing Dracula is tricky – he does not exactly appear like that in the novel.
But when I worked with Jonathan I found all kinds of possibilities for choreographic vocabulary – he will bring many sides to the role; the hunter – the wolf, the noble and sinister count, the lonely undead, a malevolent humour, a vicious callous streak and a childlike naivety.
Like in the novel – you never know what he will do – how he will respond to any situation.
How does your approach to this show differ from other MBC productions?
Hopefully every production is an evolution. I'll always push it. I've made pieces to existing stories before – but this is a first for my company. It is a larger production – both cast and design.
What do you think is an audience's general feeling towards Dracula as a character?
I think that depends if you've read the book or not. It's interesting when you find how many people haven't. I think an idea of Dracula is embedded in us mainly through the movies.
People who have read the book have all sorts of ideas and questions. He is an enigmatic character with many of the qualities mentioned above. He is often just a presence alluded to – perhaps only a darker side to ourselves. I think people will always fantasise about vampires. The sexual nature of what they do is one of the main reasons for this.
Does your production incorporate romance, horror, mystery, imagination – all?
All, I hope. It will also have some humour – something not prevalent in the book, but not in the way Dracula has become a comic figure.