After a quiet summer, the Northern Ballet's interpretation of Bram Stoker's classic vampire tale, Dracula, swoops in to the West Yorkshire Playhouse with great gothic flair. Last performed by the company in 2009, the production transforms Stoker's much-mined 1897 novel into a feast for the eyes and ears, as artistic director, David Nixon, and the rest of the talented creative team behind the Northern Ballet rework the words into a passionate and full-bloodied all-dance affair.
For anyone not familiar with the story behind all the bats and neck-biting, the tale concerns the titular vampire, who rises from his grave to prey on young lawyer, Jonathan (Ashley Dixon), and two young women, the recently engaged, Lucy (Pippa Moore), and Jonathan's wife, Mina (Martha Leebolt). As things develop, the focus shifts to the intense relationship between Dracula (Tobias Batley) and Mina, and the efforts to rescue the young woman from the vampire's seductive and bewitching hold.
In a company of wonderfully talented dancers, Batley is the standout as the angular, cat-like vampire, infusing his Dracula with the right amounts of torment, menace and allure, with even a dash of humour thrown in (his little sideways shuffle causing more than a few chuckles amongst the audience!). But, everyone in the company gives it their all throughout, demonstrating excellent skill, combined with boundless energy and vivid characterisation that comes through in each sequence.
The atmospheric (recorded) music comes courtesy of Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998), with additional pieces by Arvo Pärt (b. 1935), Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) and Michael Daugherty (b. 1954).
Considered by some of us ballet novices as a traditional medium that belongs on a grand old stage, initial scepticism at the blank canvass of the Quarry Theatre setting was soon allayed, as once again the cavernous space has been transformed; this time into a wonderfully gothic backdrop. The space also allows for the performers to get up close to the audience, offering an even more expressive and emotive experience.
Special mention should also go to lighting designer, Tim Mitchell, whose fine work adds much to the overall look and feel of the production. In fact, the show oozes quality throughout its two-hour running time (including interval), from the set design (courtesy of Ali Allen) to the wardrobe design (team supervised by Kim Brassley).
On the downside, there are a few sequences in which the storytelling element takes a back seat to the ballet moves. For dance aficionados, this may be a good thing, but for those of us more accustomed to dialogue-driven productions, this works to slow things down a little and, on occasion, renders the action a little confusing. This is especially true during the opening sequences where Jonathan and Dracula interact and the character of Renfield is introduced.
However, some sequences, such the consummation of Dracula and Mina's obsessive relationship are just plain mesmerising; whereas others, such as Lucy's engagement party, show just how powerful and effective ballet can be as a storytelling medium.
Overall, this is a production to be enjoyed by ballet lovers, vampire enthusiasts and theatre buffs alike. In fact, it's a show anyone can sink their teeth into!
The Northern Ballet's Dracula continues at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 13 September 2014.