Interview: Mark Bruce - Artistic Director, Mark Bruce Company

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Mark Bruce

The Mark Bruce Company brings a new dance version of Dracula to Wilton’s Music Hall in London from 9 October. A haunting and erotic tale told through contemporary dance to an eclectic mix of music from Bach and Mozart to Ligeti and Fred Frith, the production promises romance, horror, mystery, imagination, and a little humour. Although Bruce has made pieces to existing stories before, this is a first for his company. David Mead talked to Mark for us.…

When did you first read Dracula?
I was probably about nine or ten. I read it again in my teens and glanced at it since then, but only returned to it properly over the last couple of years.

What effect did it have on you?
There is something that makes me never tire of it. It is a great story but it also has an elusive magic. I think Dracula opens our imagination and dreams. I used to draw comics of it all the time. As a novel, it causes us to put ourselves inside the story. It’s a very believable tale, partly because it is written in journal form. I find every time I go back to it there are things I haven’t seen before. The fact that it’s not a retrospective historical novel also adds to its feeling of authenticity. It is a product of its time and reflects the things prevalent in Victorian society: the emergence and interest in science, the effect of this on religion; an interest in foreign travel; people’s fears and taboos; the perception and place of women… The story is now so embedded in our minds it is difficult to stand back and look at it objectively, but in attempting to do so, one sees what a strange novel it is. It is also a subtly erotic novel, though it’s impossible to know how much irony was intended by Stoker in all its sexual connotations. Underneath it all, though, it is a story with a human heart.

Of the films you’ve seen, do you have a favourite?
I would have to say the two versions of Nosferatu: the 1922 silent version directed by FW Murnau and the 1979 version directed by Werner Herzog featuring Klaus Kinski and Isabelle Adjani. I also saw quite a faithful BBC version from the seventies, parts of which have stayed with me. I love the early Hammer versions too. Christopher Lee is great. It is hard to exorcise the image of him as Dracula when trying to picture the character.

Is there any one film you’ve particularly referenced in this production?
Not really. Many films capture a magic in their own right. I’ve gone back to Bram Stoker’s novel and then allowed some influences to creep in, albeit subconsciously. In terms of colour and horror I think there is a Dario Argento influence there, although not from his Dracula film (which I haven’t seen) but more from films like Suspiria. Interestingly, I think an old Tom Baker Dr Who, The Talons of Weng Chiang, has had a strong influence, particularly its use of light – or rather absence of – areas disappearing into darkness – and what rests there is our imagination. This reminds me of the old Penny Bloods and Penny Dreadfuls, which have also had an influence on the production.

[Penny Bloods and Penny Dreadfuls were 19th century novels published over several weeks, each part costing one penny. Usually crudely printed and illustrated, they tended towards lurid melodramas, crime and violence.]

Why is now the right time to make a dance version of Dracula?
I’ve thought about a dance version since I started dancing in the late ‘80s. There were several things that pushed me to finally get it together. The last three years I’ve been thinking more seriously about it and how to do it. When we performed Made in Heaven at Wilton’s Music Hall last year I thought if I don’t do Dracula here, I’m not serious about doing it, because it’s the perfect venue. I also had some of the cast in mind; dancers at the right time in their careers. In all senses the time felt right. I felt I had enough knowledge to produce something that didn’t fall into all the inherent traps of doing such a well-known story.

Does the production take in the whole story, or are you concentrating on certain aspects or sections?
I have made some cuts. It is impossible not to unless you are going to make a very long version. Working without dialogue I actually found things that could be cut presented themselves naturally. I’ve cut or merged some characters also, but I’ve tried to remain close to the book. The love story of Mina and Jonathan Harker is a major line through everything, as is their harrowing journey and the tragic story of Lucy and the men who are in love with her. I have also developed a through line for the role of Dracula’s three vampire brides. Almost like a Greek chorus, their journey will sew everything together.

Who’s playing Dracula and why did you think he’d be good in that role?
Before thinking about Jonathan Goddard playing the role I hadn’t decided if I wanted to use an actor or a dancer. The idea of a ‘dancing’ Dracula is tricky. He doesn’t exactly appear like that in the novel. But when I worked with Jonathan I found all kinds of possibilities for choreographic vocabulary. He will bring many sides to the role: the hunter, the wolf, the noble and sinister count, the lonely undead, a malevolent humour, a vicious callous streak and a childlike naivety. I think we have enhanced the physical animal of the character. Like in the novel, you never know what he will do or how he will respond to any situation.

What do you think is an audience’s general feeling towards Dracula as a character?
I think that depends if you’ve read the book or not. It’s interesting when you find how many people haven’t. I think an idea of Dracula is embedded in us mainly through the movies. People who have read the book have all sorts of ideas and questions. He is an enigmatic character with many of the qualities mentioned above. He is often just a presence alluded to; perhaps only a darker side to ourselves. I think people will always fantasise about vampires. The sexual nature of what they do is one of the main reasons for this.

What about location?
Location is very important in the book, but so is time. I’ve put a lot of thought into this with Phil and we have come up with a very stylised and symbolic set. I also have a great lighting designer. The theatres also bring their own sense of location and event. In many ways this is a Victorian music hall show. I love the old traditions of theatre, and the era is correct. We are not using any digital effects. It is not a movie.

If you had to sum up your Dracula very briefly, what would you say?
Expect the unexpected.

Mark Bruce Company in Dracula
Wed 9 Oct – Sat 2 Nov, 7.30pm
Wilton’s Music Hall1, Graces Alley (off Ensign St), London, E1 8JB
020 7702 2789

David Mead is a dance practitioner working in East Asia and the UK who writes for CriticalDance, Dancing Times, Ballet Review and other publications.

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