I’ve always thought of doing a version of Dracula from as far back as I can remember, even before I started dancing. I guess I am interested in what people call the dark side, although it wasn’t until people started saying that my work was dark that I really thought about it that way. I think it’s all part of reality. Because as soon as you start looking into anything in any depth, if there’s some truth in it probably you’ll find some darkness in it. It’s part of life. So it does interest me, yes, but not in a morbid way. I think things can be savage and dark but they’re often the most beautiful as well.
Dracula is a surreal tale, there’s an element of madness to it. It’s a strange story, and I think it captures our imaginations because we put the pictures together in our minds. There’s so much missing from it when you really look at the text, you have to imagine and fill in the gaps yourself. The character of Dracula is still very mysterious, and I think that we find traits in ourselves that maybe we project onto him, and I think that he’s about traits in ourselves.
The dark side of Dracula comforts people in a strange kind of way. There is a lot of tenderness, actually, in the book, but it’s not always spoken – it’s written privately in the characters’ journals. You can show an undercurrent of that with movement, which can give a strong sense of emotion. The feelings between the characters can be felt rather than told. Dance and visual imagery and music can really touch you in a subtle way, they can show what’s not being said.
It wasn’t necessarily that I was always going to do a dance version – and in a sense, this is dance-theatre, it’s very theatrical. There’s a huge team involved, there’s about 46 people involved in the production. We’ve just been doing blood-spraying mechanisms and working with a magician. Phil Eddolls has done an incredible wrought-iron set, and my costume designer Doro [Brodrueck], I think she’s got about 40 costumes. I’ve ten great dancers as well. The cast are really strong, both as dancers and dramatically.
I’ve set this in Victorian times. I’ve taken some artistic licence with the book at the same time as trying to stay true to the essence of what I think is underneath it. I’ve enhanced the role of the vampire brides, and almost used them like a Greek chorus to take us through the journey – and I think the women’s journey is something that really interests me about it. And I’ve looked a lot at the relationship between Dracula and Jonathan Harker, how Dracula is kind of trying to take his life and almost imitate him. You’re not sure even if this is all Jonathan Harker’s madness, if he just went abroad and had a terrible fever, and when he returns to England he doubts his own sanity. Until he sees that it is happening to other people.
Dracula is not just something that’s apart from us that we need to destroy, it’s something that’s inside us
The cast are changing all the time into different roles. They go from animals to maids to children wandering around a graveyard at night. The wolves are played by the same characters that play the other male characters in the book. Being a wolf and then changing into a Victorian gentleman is an interesting change, and you take part of it with you. As an audience I think you understand that those characters have savage traits and can slip into that way of being. I think that’s part of the point about Dracula: Dracula is not just something that’s apart from us that we need to destroy, it’s something that’s inside us.
It’s not a glossy gothic, it’s a dirty gothic
The scenes are set very filmically, but this isn’t like a CGI version of Dracula. There is a gothic feel but it’s not a glossy gothic, it’s a dirty gothic. It’s quite vaudeville in a strange way, and it’s using quite old-fashioned methods. And I like playing in small theatres, because it’s more intimate. This isn’t a show that you want to sit right back from, you want to see the sweat, the drama between the people. You want to see it close-up.
I’ve been watching horror films from as far back as I can remember, so I’m sure there are subliminal images from them in here. One of the big challenges was to allow those influences to come through but to make my own version. Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake of Nosferatu has been a big influence; I think it’s a great art film. And the Hammer films are in there somewhere I’m sure, and images from the Victorian penny dreadful magazines. Even some of those really old episodes of Doctor Who that are set in Dickens’ London, when they didn’t have much money to make them so everything goes into darkness, and like in the book your imagination opens up, because you start projecting what you see into the darkness.
I think part of the magic of Dracula comes from the time it was written. The book touches on so many things but it doesn’t really conclude them for you. And I’ve often wondered how much Bram Stoker knew about what he was writing, the undercurrents of what he was saying. Modern Draculas – to me they’re not so scary any more. Sometimes it’s like he’s just in love, whereas in the book it’s not just a question of this lonely undead person falling in love, it’s really pretty brutal and malevolent.
Is this piece scary? I don’t know. But I don’t think it lets you off the hook. You’re not really sure which way it’s going to go in each scene. It should get under your skin. Maybe it’s something you think about when you’re home at night. Because it’s connected with your dreams, I think. The book is connected with your dreams. If we took Dracula out of our consciousness – it’s a big missing bit, actually. I can’t quite imagine life without it.
For a shorter audio version of this interview, see Mark Bruce on Dracula.
Dracula tours to Bristol, Exeter, Bournemouth, London, Oxford and Frome until 10 November 2013. Details here.