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Dracula - Mark Bruce company (tour - Manchester)

Dave Cunningham loves this fresh bite of an old classic, seen through a dancer's eyes.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Vampires have lost their bite and are reduced to being pin-ups for tweens who would once have been their prey.

Jonathan Goddard as Dracula, Mark Bruce Company
© Colin Hawkins

Director and choreographer Mark Bruce sets out to redress the balance with a ballet version of Dracula that is respectful of, but not slavishly deferential to, the source material.

The choice of music is eclectic including Bruce's own compositions and works by Bach and Beethoven, the occasional folk tune and music hall number and from avant-garde Fred Firth.

The common theme of the orchestral music is that it has a choral base so that, ironically, devotional tunes provide a backing for acts of darkness.

The tone of the production is subdued; this is not a ballet that allows cathartic release. Dorothee Brodruck's costumes are in shades of black and white with the occasional splash of red – when Kristen McGuire's Lucy arrives in a scarlet dress you know she isn't long for this world.

Bruce interprets vampirism as a curse as Dracula and his brides re-experience their death agony and gorging on blood restores the humanity of the brides with consequent guilt.

A fine feature of the ballet is that Nichole Guarino , Grace Jabbari and Hannah Kidd, who play the brides, provide also a silent chorus stalking in the background of the play with eyebrows raised in mockery.

Jonathan Goddard's Dracula is very much the pale prince under a curse. Opening with Bruce's gypsy theme he dances alone swooping high and dropping low in isolation.

By contrast Eleanor Duval and Wayne Parsons perform a charming duet as Mina and Jonathan Harker capturing not just the closeness of the couple but also their almost childlike innocence.

This allows for a darkening of the mood when the couple's later duet is twisted and full of painful halts and starts showing the extent to which Jonathan has been affected by his experiences with the Count.

Bruce and dramaturg Lynda Radley are clearly fans of Stolker's novel. They use a dove carrying messages across the stage to give a visual representation of one of its most significant features –the story being told in the form of letters and dairy entries.

A savage sequence, referenced but not described in the novel, opens the ballet as Dracula and his wolf pack steal a baby from the arms of its mother.

Recognising that full horror can become numbing Bruce includes elements of comedy with Lucy's rejection of her suitors being played for laughs. Dracula torments Jonathan dancing a soft shoe routine to a music hall ditty. He makes his entrance to Whitby in full wolf guise but wearing a top hat.

Bruce plays down the erotic aspects of vampirism with choreography emphasising its animalistic side. Dracula may begin by seducing his victims but the conclusion of the dance is closer to ravishment.

This approach depends greatly on the feline grace of Jonathan Goddard stalking cat-like close to the ground and rushing towards his prey with a startling speed.

This is a welcome injection of new blood to a legend that was in danger of becoming anaemic.

Mark Bruce Company's Dracula continues at the Contact, Manchester until 11 October.