When I pitched a scenario for the Dracula Dossier involving vampires and ballet, I had no idea that a ballet interpretation of Dracula existed. Well, that’s not entirely true, I was aware of the Atlanta Ballet’s ongoing but un-filmed version (someday!), but not of this one based on the Royal Winnipeg’s company. I found Dracula — Pages from a Virgin’s Diary when I was compiling a list of ballets to watch to go along with my planned (re)watch of Dracula films and spy thrillers. Obviously, I had to buy it, and last night my husband and I put aside a couple hours and watched it.
Here’s the trailer, which excited me with its gorgeous black-and-white and trippy feel:
I have…thoughts. I’m organizing them into thoughts on it as a ballet, as a film, and as an adaptation of Dracula, because I have wildly different levels of preference on them. It’d be impossible for me to give it stars, as I want to go from one (for cinematography) to five (for set design).
As a Ballet
The dancers were all excellent. The choreography was quite good. In particular, I enjoyed Lucy’s scenes in the graveyard, both with Dracula and with the other men. What there was was good. I really wish there was more. I feel like I don’t have a lot to say on this front because there wasn’t as much as I’d hoped. What I’ll talk about in the next section also affects how I perceived what was there.
As a Film
What in the bloody blazes of hell was the director doing? I appreciated the changes of focus and aperture to a degree, but this was like when your cousin becomes addicted to using every single filter on Instagram. Or, in a film parallel, it was like in South Pacific where Joshua Logan had clearly discovered the joy of colored filters and used them with abandon (I understand someone in editing on that film may also be to blame for the level of contrast). It became a bit dizzying, as one scene might use 5 fast enough to give one whiplash. If you look at the trailer, it’s unfortunately not a bad picture of what watching the film is actually like, which is a bit much. Hell, it’s understated in terms of colored filters.
It could have been good. I think if they’d stuck to just the black-and-white options (selective focus, increased graininess, and zooming in to a circular shot only at the close of scenes), the variety of techniques might have enhanced the film.
For the dramatic scenes where dancers appeared to be talking, we had classic intertitles as in a silent film. This was a better choice than the language of ballet mime, which doesn’t have a lot of the words they’d have needed. At times the descriptive text was over-wrought, but the dialogue itself came directly from the book.
As an Adaptation
Again, I would be at a loss to give it stars on the adaptation front. The Lucy scenes in Whitby are closer to the book than any other adaptation I’ve seen. The staging choices of having her mother in a glass coffin (up to the point where she joins Lucy and they both die) and of an organ with green smoke were a bit surreal. But three engaging suitors, a back-and-forth, all of them giving her transfusions yet hiding it from Arthur—all of these were very much the book, though interpreted into the language of ballet (which is my second language).
While some artistic choices in the graveyard, such as Dracula and Lucy biting each other during their pas de deux, aren’t quite in synch with the story, it still gave the same atmosphere. The only change was her seductive dance with the four men who had come to kill her before they each stake her, then drive her into her coffin. We even saw Lucy beheaded, albeit with a shovel…and how rare is that in Dracula adaptations? I applauded!
After that, the adaptation went a bit off the rails, but in a way I could understand. Renfield gave Mina up as the next target, but she was still nursing Jonathan to the East and we have a few flashbacks to Jonathan’s trip to Castle Dracula. So the four-man team leaves for Dracula’s castle while Dracula visits Mina in Europe. Mina, who has a lovely dance with black veil-carrying nuns, discovers Jonathan’s diary and the apparent intercourse he had with Dracula’s wives. We get a flashback of him with each of them along with melodramatic title cards. I must admit I laughed when the phrase “FLESH POTS” flashed on the screen. Mina then attempts to assert her own sexuality and keeps trying to give Jonathan a blow-job, which is a bit disconcerting in the middle of a Dracula ballet.
The final confrontation occurs in Dracula’s vault, where the men (Jonathan now inexplicably among their number) stake Dracula’s waves, place crosses in his coffins, and wait for him to return. There’s a great deal of balletic fighting, Van Helsing appearing beaten, Mina and Jonathan finally getting him staked, and the group leaving. Rather than staking Dracula in a coffin, they leave him impaled as in the classic woodcut:
An entire subplot of the adaptation was dedicated to a perceived Eastern Menace. Early title cards showed blood flowing from Transylvania to England as Lucy slept. They dramatically flashed bold words like: “IMMIGRANTS.” I got the impression this was being done to mock the panic of earlier eras.
Besides the red selective coloring, which I liked some of the time, they used green selective coloring to highlight money Dracula has brought back to Castle Dracula. At one point in the final fight, someone stabs Dracula and he spills out gold coins instead of blood. (Ken reminds me of the passage “As it was, the point just cut the cloth of his coat, making a wide gap whence a bundle of bank-notes and a stream of gold fell out” in the fight before Dracula flees for the continent. Though I still note that this was money he brought to spend, not the implication of money being taken out of England.) When Dracula is finally skewered, the floor around him is covered in (black and white) bills.
A part of me gets it but most of me just cringed over that bit. The title credits were a good, if faux-dramatic, allusion to some people’s fears. However the “they’re stealing our money” really doesn’t come up in Dracula. And the way it was done with selective coloring as a minor element just made it cringe-worthy.
Graveyard Pas de Deux
If you want one good thing, have Dracula & Lucy’s graveyard dance:
My husband’s assessment: “That was insanity en pointe.”