The seductive combination of illicit romance and Gothic horror in Dracula seared the mythical tale into Victorian England’s public consciousness, creating a legend that has proven destined to live eternally in popular culture.

In the 124 years since the publication of Bram Stoker’s epistolary novel there have been 30 film adaptations, along with theatre, television, opera and dance versions.

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Alexander Idaszak in Dracula, Queensland Ballet. Photo © David Kelly

The Transylvanian Count’s vampiric neck-biting and its powerful erotic symbolism have given the character a standalone status ripe for the gamut of interpretations from melodrama to realism to camp comedy.

Returning to Stoker’s text, this co-production between Queensland Ballet and West Australian Ballet highlights the romantic and passionate elements of the story. Its success and acclaim have seen it performed twice in three years by WAB, in its 2018 premiere season and in 2020, with Artistic Director Aurélien Scannella portraying the Old Dracula on both occasions.

So the expectation has been high for QB’s turn, which was originally scheduled for last winter before COVID-19 saw it delayed until now. The company added two extra performances in response to demand, an impressive achievement given the Lyric Theatre’s 2000-seat capacity.

In accordance with his desire “to make a piece about love”, commissioned Polish choreographer Krzysztof Pastor emphasises the tale’s relationships in his storytelling. We are introduced to the medieval Transylvanian Count Dracula who leaves his beloved wife for war and returns to find that believing him to be dead, she has killed herself. Elizabeth’s denial of a burial because of her suicide impels Dracula to renounce God and transform into a vampire.

When four centuries later, young English solicitor Jonathan Harker is involved in the Count’s purchase of an English estate, the uncanny resemblance between Jonathan’s fiancée Mina and the late Elizabeth sees Dracula become fixated on Mina. Mina’s vivacious friend Lucy becomes engaged to Arthur, but the party celebrating the occasion turns ghastly with the arrival of the Count, who is restored to youth by each infusion of a victim’s blood.

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Lucy Green and Joseph Chapman in Dracula, Queensland Ballet. Photo © David Kelly

The anticipation I felt for arresting imagery and tension in the production was piqued by the synopsis. It is certainly reflected in the arrangement of composer Wojciech Kilar’s score from Francis Ford Coppola’s film Bram Stoker’s Dracula, combined with some of his symphonic music. The atmosphere of Gothic horror is wonderfully conjured by the dark and foreboding Transylvanian set and its lighting, plus strikingly dramatic costumes, makeup and hair – these, by Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith (set and costume) and Jon Buswell (lighting) are stars of the production themselves.

However, the emphasis on the relationships between the couples who find themselves drawn into Dracula’s macabre world generated quite a different dynamic than I was hoping for; while there is an effective contrast between the gloom of the Count’s Transylvanian castle and the gaiety of London society, the extended repetition in the latter of large group waltzes with little variation in steps felt unnecessary and diluted engagement.

Pastor, who is the acclaimed and multi-award winning director of the Polish National Ballet, has used a movement vocabulary incorporating classical and contemporary, and even touches of jazz ballet. At times it is utterly brilliant. The most inspired sequence is a blood-lust tango between Dracula and Jonathan triggered by a paper cut. The transitions between Old Dracula (Alexander Idaszak) and Young Dracula (Victor Estévez) are magically staged, contributing another welcome facet to the Count’s otherworldliness.

Despite Pastor’s desire to emphasise romance, the subtlety and fluidity of the largely lyrical movement he has used – while beautiful – mean that in terms of intensity, these can’t outdo the segments involving the vampires. These are the most exciting and provocative, and while there are males and females, those featuring the female trio of Sophie Zoricic, Laura Tosar and Vanessa Morelli are the standout for evoking the requisite mood. Their scenes assaulting Jonathan in his bed and atop their coffins provide fantastically memorable images.

Dracula QB

Lucy Green in Dracula, Queensland Ballet. Photo © David Kelly

Spearheaded by the two Counts, all of the leads are strong, with Camilo Ramos as Jonathan and Lucy Green as Lucy capitalising on opportunities for showier expression and accents in their roles. Other highlights are the slow-motion approach in profile of the vampire hunters led by Van Helsing, and the sculpted near-naked forms of the Phantoms (Liam Geck and Patricio Revé), executing classical leaps, turns and extensions with a purity of line and impressive elevation.

Usually an asylum scene is to be relished, but the mostly linear movement Pastor used for depicting this – perhaps trying to avoid clichés – fell short of conveying angst and torment effectively. I felt using a more contemporary vocabulary including contractions and contortions could have better captured this sense without resorting to caricature.

Finally, there is the narrative, broken into ten scenes comprising a prologue and two acts. The amount of plot detail included that isn’t easily conveyed through dance makes reading the synopsis a pre-requisite for fully following and understanding all that’s occurring. Even though I did, I was still somewhat confused by the ending’s divergence from the perceived lore of vampire killing, until re-reading the notes afterwards.

This is a stunning looking and sounding production, beautifully staged and performed. Maybe my taste is more ghoulish than some, but I just wanted a bit more juiciness dripping from it.

Dracula runs at the Lyric theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre until 4 December.

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