FROM OUR FRIENDS: Dracula – An interview with Mark Bruce

Fresh from winning the prestigious South Bank Sky Arts Award for Dance Mark Bruce Company‘s Dracula is about to embark upon its second UK tour, calling at Bristol Old Vic this week. We caught up with Mark ahead of its opening here on Wednesday.
Have you made any changes to DRACULA for its second UK tour?

MARK BRUCE:   I’ve changed a couple of things; there’s slightly different material for the wolves and I’ve added a small scene – it’s an adaptation of a scene from the book, very small, very subtle. The new cast members will make it feel different, perhaps a little darker, I’ve had some time to reflect and push myself further into the heart of the piece .

How do you feel about presenting DRACULA to such a wide range of venues?

MARK BRUCE: I’m really excited about all the venues on this tour…we’ll be able to stage DRACULA in its full glory at all the venues which will be fantastic for us and hopefully for the audience, most of whom will be seeing it for the first time.

Tell us about some of the practical challenges about presenting DRACULA in different venues all over the UK.

MARK BRUCE:   The width of the stage will affect how we put the set together, how we drag the coffins on and off, how we then slide them into their narrow spaces onstage. Every venue presents its own challenges so we try to take in the aesthetic of each one and make sure it works. There are 12 or 13 of us on the road at any time – in fact this is the biggest show Mark Bruce Company has ever toured.

What do you think is the enduring appeal of Dracula?

MARK BRUCE:   Bram Stoker’s story has an elusive magic which taps into our imagination and dreams.   Dracula is a very strange novel and its flaws, or simple omissions, cause us to put ourselves inside the story. All I did was try to capture that magic and it seems to have struck a chord with people; you’d probably have to analyse every section of it to work out why but the fact remains that the story of Dracula gets under people’s skin. I think people identify with him, they find something of themselves in the character – perhaps there’s something of the vampire in all of us. I think it’s also very much a product of its time, fascinated in what was prevalent in Victorian society such as the emergence of science and its effect on religion; foreign travel; people’s fears and inhibitions; social taboos; the development of women’s roles…and much more.

You wrote much of the DRACULA score – tell us about the process and how you chose the other pieces of music

MARK BRUCE:   I wrote the music for guitar and marked out a coherent musical line through the piece. I used open tunings that have a slightly Eastern European feel. I responded to Jonathan Goddard’s movement as Dracula, hitting and bending the strings. The way all the dancers moved made me play in a certain way. Having a musical theme with the guitar gave me freedom to use varying music for other sections. I wanted there to be a sense of classical music because it’s set in the past and I made a conscious decision not to use any rock music this time.

Mark Bruce Company won this year’s South Bank Sky Arts Award for Dance – were you surprised and what was it like on the night?

MARK BRUCE:   We were up against some really big companies so when we won I was really surprised and very honoured. I found the whole ceremony very supportive of artists and as much as anything it was fantastic to get a piece by Peter Blake! I hadn’t written a speech but was aware of trying to thank so many people and just wanted to speak succinctly – I’d seen enough ceremonies to know I didn’t want to go on and on…

I think the award has helped and probably in ways I haven’t even realised yet; I really appreciated receiving it and felt it was honestly given and felt good about the whole production and cast and creative team.

This year Mark Bruce Company became an NPO – what does that mean to you?

MARK BRUCE:   It means some stability and the ability to plan long term. It’s interesting – when people say you must be over the moon I am, but I’m also very aware of the responsibility. Up till now each project has been done on a guerrilla basis; now I will be able to liberate the work which means being more ambitious in artistic terms as well as scale. I feel that we’re striving for something and it gives us three years to push further and see what we can do – it’s enormously exciting, challenging and I’m absolutely delighted!

What else have you been working on this year and what’s next for Mark Bruce Company?

MARK BRUCE:   I’ve been writing a lot of music, I’ve finished a novel, making a piece for Ballet Black and I may have a project in Singapore. And above all, I’m working on the next big piece for my own company.

1-4 Oct
(Running time: 120mins inc. interval)
£5-£20 (plus booking fee)
Ages: 14+


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