Transcendance Project revives its immersive dance-theatre take on Dracula in Toronto
You may have heard of Sleep No More, the genre-defining immersive theatre adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth by UK company Punchdrunk. While the show is wildly successful in New York (playing since 2011) and Shanghai (opened in 2016), it’s unlikely a production will ever open in Toronto due to the show’s complexity and cost. But luckily for us, local contemporary dance company Transcendance Project may have created the next best thing.
The Eve of St. George, an immersive dance-theatre adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is taking over four floors of The Great Hall for five performances over three nights, inviting guests to don masks and become anonymous voyeurs; giving them free reign to explore their way through the show’s dark, mysterious, and sexy world.
I reviewed the initial run of The Eve of St. George back in 2015 and was hugely impressed by what Artistic Director Julia Cratchley and her team were able to achieve then. This new production is even bolder and more confident.
Transcendance Project uses the format developed by Punchdrunk for this show including masked audience members, multiple scenes occurring simultaneously throughout the building, a contemporary dance adaptation of a widely-recognizable classical text, an eerie musical score (by composer Owen Belton) as well as a dark and slightly discomfiting atmosphere underlying it all.
If you familiarize yourself with Bram Stoker’s novel beforehand, the characters will be fairly easy to recognize once you spot them. At various points throughout the show you may encounter Van Helsing (Ryan Lee), Jonathan Harker (Marc Cardarelli), Lucy Westenra (Tori Mehaffey), Mina Murray (Kelly Shaw), Renfield (Scott MacDonald), and Count Dracula himself (Matt Alfano).
I was very impressed by the strong backbone of choreography that Cratchley has created for each of the characters in the show. Not only are the dances beautiful, they also effectively convey the narrative and each character’s intent in a way that feels organic and natural. The choreography of the larger group scenes is particularly impressive for their scale and complexity.
So too is the fight choreography by Colleen Snell; the show’s combat scenes are intense, highly physical and brutal—made even more so by the close proximity the audience is afforded to the action.
I was also impressed by the strong character work in the show, particularly by the Vampire Brides (Madeline Wright, Kathleen Legassick, and Martha Hart) and Vampire Children (Sarah MacDonald, Karly Bon, and Samuel Davilmar). I love the ease with which they interact with audience members in a way that’s simultaneously charming and deeply unnerving.
I also loved how this show filled the performance space. I don’t know if there’s a more perfect venue in Toronto for a show like this. The Great Hall’s two large, split-level auditoriums and multiple Victorian-style rooms and grand staircases provide the perfect backdrop for the show.
The performance spaces are augmented with sparse set pieces (by set designers Jennifer Goodman and Kyle Purves) that give each room just enough of a sense of place. However, I’d really like to see what the show would look like with enough budget to create fully immersive environments that the audience can really delve into and explore.
From everything I’ve seen tonight, I think this show is ready for a larger production and I wonder if Toronto could sustain a longer, commercial run of The Eve of St. George.
Productions like this are expensive to produce and run but Sleep No More has attracted huge audiences and developed cult followings in both New York and Shanghai. In both those cities there’s a sense of mystique and a cachet around these productions; their event-like nature attracts a much broader audience than just your regular theatre-goers.
Closer to home, The Hogtown Experience has done a summer residency at the Campbell House museum for the past two years, so it can be done. I would love to see The Eve of St. George return for a longer engagement. With the right intrepid producer and some clever marketing I think the show has the potential for a successful, longer run in the city.
In the mean time, don’t miss your chance to catch this gorgeous, dark, sexy and thrilling piece of immersive dance-theatre.
- The Eve of St. George is playing at the Great Hall, 1087 Queen Street West, January 26, 27, at 7 PM and 10 PM, and January 28 at 7 PM
- Tickets, $55.00, can be purchased online at www.transcendanceproject.com/shows
Photos by Alvin Collantes