Northern Ballet Theatre’s Dracula takes its story from literature and its style from cinema. David Nixon’s production sticks fairly closely to the Bram Stoker novel, which can make it hard to follow unless you’re familiar with the plot. The designs look like sets from expressionist cinema, with Ali Allen’s elongated gothic arches and stylised cemetery perfectly lit (or rather shadowed) by John Bishop’s gloomy lighting.
The ballet unfurls like a cinematic montage, scenes tumbling out in rapid succession, and the dance style has the melodramatic, even hammy feel of silent-film acting
The ballet unfurls like a cinematic montage, scenes tumbling out in rapid succession, and the dance style – classical technique with lashings of exaggerated mime – has the melodramatic, even hammy feel of silent-film acting. As in Coppola’s film version, Dracula (played for pathos as well as sinister, slithery effect by Jimmy Orrante) is less evil fiend than romantic hero, his “haemosexuality” both his lure and his fatal flaw. Lucy (Georgina May), is first impetuous then impassioned; her split-legged death throes with Dracula are orgasmic spasms, and her brief afterlife is all woozy abandon. Keiko Amemori gives depth to the role of Mina, caught between virtuous attachment to husband Jonathan (Patrick Howell) and her attraction to Dracula, who helps unbutton her bodice, giving her limbs a new, sensual suppleness.
In this context, the nominal good guys seem like forces of repression in stiff Victorian suits, led by the bloodless Van Helsing (Steven Wheeler, coldly efficient). Mad Renfield (Sebastian Loe) is a gibbering comic caricature, but also a distraction from the main story, with its abrupt, shocking finale.
Although the narrative sometimes overloads the dance, there are effective choreographic moments: the “freeze-frame” effect at Lucy’s deathbed, and the duet between Mina and Jonathan with Dracula as an unseen third partner. The overwrought music (mostly Schnittke) fits surprisingly well with the action, but can be wearing; Rachmaninov, in the ballroom scene, captures subtler currents of swoon and doom.
This is a well-staged, populist production, and you don’t have to be a sucker for gothic excess to feel its dramatic bite.