Magazine article The Spectator

Escapism at Its Best

Magazine article The Spectator

Escapism at Its Best

Article excerpt

Despite their Gothic/Romantic connotations, vampires have seldom been considered ideal protagonists for a ballet. The limited narrative possibilities allowed by the aesthetic and technical predicaments of ballet, as well as the bias about what this art form can and cannot express, have often prevented choreographic renditions of stories such as Bram Stoker's Dracula.

For many years, therefore, the only vampiresque characters to be found in the classical repertoire were those of the Wilis in the second act of Giselle. After all, the vengeful ghosts of jilted girls who dance men to death have, in the original Slavonic legend, many things in common with the blood-thirsty non-dead. It is only in recent times that a new approach to narrative ballet, prompted partly by a misinterpretation of the artistic formulae favoured by dramatically powerful dance makers such as Kenneth MacMillan, has led several choreographers to ransack both Stoker's novel and the various films based on it. Unfortunately, most of these adaptations have resulted in preposterous balletic horrors based on a forced and ridiculous combination of classical dance and B-movie effects. Let's face it, pirouettes and blood-sucking are not that compatible.

Fortunately, Northern Ballet Theatre's Dracula represents a thoroughly enjoyable exception, for the dancing in it never gets too much in the way of the story. Created in 1996, after a memorable press launch at the London Dungeon, the ballet is one of the best examples of that dance-drama genre created by the late and much missed Christopher Gable, under whose directorship the company attained its distinctive artistic identity and became one of Britain's most interesting dance groups.

Since his early days as company leader, Gable envisaged a more immediate and less elitist way to offer ballet to a broader audience. In his view, immediacy and accessibility could be achieved only through an interdisciplinary artistic process. This relied on expanding the historically and technically limited narrative of the existing choreography by enhancing the dramatic/theatrical side of the danced work. Although in some instances such a process led to the creation of unbalanced hybrids, in the case of Dracula it worked beautifully. …

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