In Haunt

- By Dr Matt Foley

It’s a mild evening in Sale.  Some amateur enthusiasts are kayaking on the Bridgewater canal. Free and easy chatter carries itself across the water from a beer garden to the doorsteps of Sale’s modern Waterside Arts Centre.  The patrons of the beer garden are no doubt relaxing after work – it's around 7pm – but what awaits at the Arts Centre is an all-together richer form of escapism. The Chantry Dance Company are in town to present their ballet ‘Dracula: Welcome to D’s’.  They haven’t arrived, as the count does in Stoker’s novel, by ship from the Carpathian Mountains, but instead by bus from their company base in Grantham.

Their mission, it becomes clear during their show, is to educate, to entertain, and to showcase the work of the professional dancers of Chantry Dance Company and the supporting cast of students of the company's attached vocational school, Chantry School of Contemporary & Balletic Arts. By the end of the night, they have succeeded on all fronts, and even dedicate time to taking questions from an eager (and impressed) audience. But it would be wrong, on a night like this, to focus solely on the Chanty Company’s laudable desire to educate.

 What enraptures most is the show they provide for their audience of all ages: a carefully choreographed version of Dracula, with a steampunk aesthetic, which reimagines the (familiar) tale into a new setting of a cabaret club. Dracula (Paul Chantry) is a virtuoso violinist and he seeks his Mina (Rae Piper) as a muse.  Mina and Lucy (Shannon Parker) are torn between their old world – of love, companionship, relative security – and the new, alluring, and vampiric freedoms promised by Dracula’s troupe.

The choreography that tells and enriches this story is beautifully constructed. In particular, a series of duets and solo performances in the second half powerfully evoke the emotional turmoil of the characters and gracefully highlight the musical themes and metaphors that run throughout.  Above all, though, it is the timelessness of the ballet, its dream-like quality, which allows the audience – who are very close to the stage, almost part of the artifice itself – to be carried away into another realm by the story and performances.

So, this familiar vampire tale from the past makes for an impressive ballet with an ethereal quality; one that allows us to escape the everyday now, and that also suggests a bright future not just for the leaders of the Chantry Company, who take on the central roles, but, too, for the energised and graceful supporting cast who study at the School.

The production of Dracula: Welcome to D’s is still touring, with more information regarding dates available at The Chantry Dance Company website.

Photography with thanks to Dani Bower

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