Wednesday, 30 October 2019

BALLET REVIEW: Dracula - The Playhouse, Leeds.


Halloween is a very fitting time to be watching dancing vampires in tights, and the Gothic pleasure was all mine at this evening’s performance of “Dracula”, presented at Leeds Playhouse by Northern Ballet.

Staying quite faithful to the famous novel by Bram Stoker throughout, the production opened in a dark and twisted castle in Transylvania. Riku Ito was the Old Dracula, a ravaged Nosferatu-like figure who could barely contain his blood lust around fresh-faced young English lawyer Jonathan Harker, spritely danced by Lorenzo Trossello. Three female vampires, the violently sensuous trio of Rachael Gillespie, Sarah Chun and Minju Kang, showed just how wonderful ballet is at conveying the effect of almost floating on air, while also entangling Jonathan between their limbs and close to their fangs.

Old Dracula got to Harker’s jugular vein first though, leading to a rapid rejuvenation into a young, suave, more Bela Lugosi-style Count Dracula, danced with a great deal of black cape-swirling by Javier Torres. Having seen a picture of Jonathan’s winsome fiancĂ©e Mina, he packed himself into a shipping crate and voyaged to England to find her.
Romantic ballet is descended from the nineteenth century’s craze for putting the supernatural on stage, and steps originally used to convey Sylphides and Wilis look incredible when reworked to dark effect for our modern love of vampires. For the two lead ballerinas, Abigail Prudames as Mina, and Antoinette Brooks-Daw as her spoiled and pretty friend Lucy, it gave an arc and a range that was quite extensive.

Brooks-Daw’s Lucy initially was the ultimate in Victorian frilliness as she received her two suitors: a rather dull Dr Seward, danced mournfully by Joseph Taylor, and the more stylish and dapper Arthur Holmwood, danced with great pizazz by Matthew Koon. When she was sleepwalking in a graveyard in a red evening gown (as you do), and the mist was rolling across the stage, and Dracula shimmied into view behind her…… then came a pas de deux that was so elegantly sensual, with Brooks-Daw flowing around Torres’ body like a stream of blood herself, that it was transcendent. At her highly proper engagement party, she went from lively and wanton to wild and bestial. When she crawled out of her coffin as a fully transformed vampire, she added in the alien and insect-like quality that Torres utilised in his own performance sometimes. It was an incredible role for a dazzling performer, and such a shame that Lucy got staked and taken out of the story just after the interval.

But….. it was topped by Prudames’ Mina! For the first act she danced the role with demure sweetness… and then after Lucy’s (second) death came her own pas de deux with Dracula, when he vaporised into her bedroom late at night. There was a deep psychological underlay to this sequence, which was played out like a male succubus myth, and Prudames’ performance was of the most fragile-looking strength. Initially she was telling off her unwanted suitor, even beating at his chest with delicate fists, and when she finally gave in and offered her throat, it seemed to be with the deepest sympathy and sorrow for him.

That was memorable enough, but then, all dressed in ethereal green, she had a turn of her own as a powerful lady vampire, and the stage was flooded with a radiant and electrical energy that was completely different to what any of the other vampire characters had been doing. Again, it was such a shame that the heroes turned up to save the day and cut it all short. Damn that vampire expert Van Helsing, danced with much determined cross-waving by Ashley Dixon, and his meddling ways!

Special mention of Kevin Poeung as Renfield, the patient in the lunatic asylum. His unnatural writhing was matched by a very realistic and believable diet of mimed and wriggly live insects.

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore
on - 29/10/19

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