Dance: Muddled creatures of the night

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The Independent Culture
DRACULA

SADLER'S WELLS

LONDON

AS A vampire myself, I was heartened to find a host of my fellows, in their tiaras and cloaks, among the audience for Northern Ballet Theatre's London premiere of Dracula. At last, vampires are coming out of the closet and affirming pride in their identity. The ballet has acquired a cult following in its regional touring since it was created in 1996, after the film-maker Ken Russell suggested the subject to his friend, the late Christopher Gable, then NBT's director. "Dracula," he said, "has not failed at the cinema box office yet."

The ballet charts Bram Stoker's romanticised version of vampire history, in which our master is seemingly destroyed at the end. More seriously, the action as staged by Gable and Patricia Doyle is a gem of muddle and ambiguity. They allowed the piece to evolve organically in collaboration with the dancers, when cold analysis would have insisted on signalling the narrative twists and turns clearly. The crucial encounters between Dracula and his victims are unnecessarily ambiguous, so that at first I thought Jonathan Harker had become one of us (he had not), and that Dracula's first nibbles at Lucy and Mina had done their deed (they had not). Characters are weakly flagged: it takes a while to disentangle who each of the male Dracula-hunters is, and we never find out if Mr Renfield is mere madman or vampire.

Lez Brotherston's designs must be one reason for the piece's success, going all out with decaying stonework, silhouetted trees, and curtains fluttering in open windows. There are some splendid effects, such as Mina and Dracula slithering into nothingness, and Dracula's own destruction, vaporised in a cloud of smoke. Philip Feeney has written suitably macabre music, with additional help from choral voices, wolf howls and amplified heartbeats.

Above all, the whole company throw themselves into performing, from Denis Malinkine as Dracula, to the massed ranks of oppressed Transylvanian peasants trying to transcend their terror in stamping folk dances. Jayne Regan is lumbered with the role of Mina and can't overcome her boring goody-goodiness. But Charlotte Broom finds plain sailing with gorgeous Lucy, her vitality translated into exuberant pirouettes and dazzling smiles.

Michael Pink's choreography is at its best here: distinctively slow, broad and sinuous shapes that encapsulate Dracula's grotesque, insinuating power. His entrances are particularly spectacular, his hypnotic stillness holding all of us in his fist, whether he stands at the top of the castle stairs, resplendent in a long crimson coat, or hangs upside down like a bat in Lucy's bedroom. Malinkine's Bolshoi-derived strength comes into its own in the sensational pas de deux with Harker (Daniel de Andrade), manipulating him in eccentric overhead lifts and supports. Tall and sinewy, Malinkine is the ballet's darkly glittering core. Without him, it would probably collapse. He is a magnificent advertisement for vampire rehabilitation.

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