Ghost Dances, By Christopher Bruce Essay
The work ‘Ghost Dances’ by Christopher Bruce was viewed on 26th August, 2011 to the Year 12 Dance class. The individual interpretation of the social/political or world issue/ comment the piece is attempting to make. Using direct examples from the performance, the use the choreographer has made of the movement and the non-movement components have been identified. Also the effectiveness of this piece has been evaluated.
After Christopher Bruce received a letter from a widow of a Chilean folk singer who had been murdered the very inspirational and symbolic ‘Ghost Dances’ work came about. In 1981 Bruce obtained Rambert’s trust and knowledge that he can create dance movements of a high quality and very symbolic to scenarios. Rambert asked Bruce to compile a work for the Chilean Human Rights Committee; who gave him South American styled music which he immediately adored. The tragic place in South America where dreadful situations affect the poor: father figures being pulled away from their loving families and tortured to death, friends murdered and the children taken away. Knowing of all these horrid acts stirred Bruce to be overwhelmingly sympathetic towards the causes and people who faced these unnecessary killings among their homes and neighborhood. Bruce incorporates many dance techniques and elements to portray and recognize the difference between good and evil, heaven and hell. A major aspect of this work is the characters involved and what they do to rule power and domination.
A major aspect within ‘Ghost Dances’ is the characters and how they reflect the meaning of the story and what they resemble. There are two different groups of characters within this work, the Ghost Dancers and the Peasant Villagers. Each group acts opposing to one another with diverse motives and idea of life or as it may, death. There are three Ghost Dancers that are painted grey with black lines of muscle and dark costumes. They are cruel dark dehumanized skeletal creatures that are figures of death. Their role within this work is very overwhelming. They are dominant, powerful and proudly on show and possess control of the Peasant Villagers lives. They watch their every move and attack suddenly, having full control these poor and innocent people. The Peasant Villagers carry on their everyday lives and try to be happy although they know of the constant death threat that may knock on their door at any time and take them away. As there are both male and female village dancers, they have the same concept to life and dance similarly uncontrollably and uncaring. However the male dancers are bold and predominant as they are stronger and strive to protect their loving partners. Although the females are strong they are over powered by the male figures in their lives, especially the Ghost Dancers whom have complete control of their existence. They feel helpless and uncontrolled every minute of each day. Various non-movement components help build the intensity within the...
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Phoenix Dance Theatre: Mixed Programme 2014Posted: December 1st, 2014 | Author:Nicholas Minns | Filed under:Performance | Tags:Christopher Bruce, Darshan Singh Bhuller, Document, Ivgi & Greben, John B. Read, Mapping, Mixed Programme 2014, Phoenix Dance Theatre, Shadows, Shift | Comments Off on Phoenix Dance Theatre: Mixed Programme 2014
Phoenix Dance Theatre in Darshan Singh Bhuller’s Mapping (photo: Tony Nandi)
Phoenix Dance Theatre, Mixed programme, Linbury Studio Theatre, November 27
Christopher Bruce opens Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Mixed programme 2014 with Shift, choreographed to the last movement of Kenji Bunch’s Swing Shift. Although Bruce cuts this movement from its musical context he makes something complete and beautiful within it. In the present critical environment where length is an issue, it is too short. In its brief eight minutes Bruce creates a suite of lyrical dances for six dancers in 40’s costumes (from Bruce’s own wardrobe) like a letter written home in an effusive, youthful handwriting: Dear Mum and Dad, guess what we did today… There is that breathless quality of pure enjoyment mixed with images of daily toil that flow effortlessly through the dancers’ bodies as if the choreography was made on them (Bruce created Shift in 2007 and it has only just entered the Phoenix repertory). It doesn’t harm the piece either that the lighting is by John B Read who illuminates the movement as if from the inside. There’s another shade of Bruce in his next work, Shadows, to Arvo Pärt’s Fratres for violin and piano. “To me, many of Arvo Pärt’s compositions evoke images of a European history and tradition steeped in over a thousand years of human experience and, frequently, suffering. These themes, and particularly the turbulence of twentieth century events, have influenced my reaction to his work.” In giving his reactions to the music colour and form (aided again by Read’s lighting), Bruce makes the music visible. Shadows describes the effect of an unseen external menace on the members of a family of four. There is a sense of sympathy and compassion, and in choosing Sam Vaherlehto as the father, Sandrine Monin as the mother, Vanessa Vince Pang as the daughter and Andreas Grimaldier as the son Bruce confers his emotional understanding with confidence. ‘The poetry is in the pity’ wrote Wilfred Owen in a preface to his war poems and in Shadows both the choreography and the music are in the tragedy of impending upheaval.
The same cannot be said for Ivgi & Greben’s Document. Set to music by Tom Parkinson the work purports to ‘see five dancers grappling with the darkest aspects of human emotion.’ I am taking a wild guess here, but I don’t think either Uri Ivgi or Johan Greben have experienced the darkest aspects of human emotion closely enough to begin to choreograph them. Instead we see an approximation of what they imagine it might look like which resembles uncannily the vision of other choreographers searching for a similarly degenerate scenario. The dancers work really hard making the shapes but Document fails to reach beneath the surface.
I should confess that I have just finished performing a piece that Darshan Singh Bhuller choreographed recently for Gravity & Levity called Rites of War, so some of his preoccupations in Mapping like the radio-controlled device and the camera on stage projecting live images on to a screen are familiar. According to Bhuller, the work is inspired by his father’s move from East to West, though travel is only suggested in the opening. The musical mapping follows a parallel trajectory though the choreography is firmly in the west. Bhuller loves clean shapes and it is no surprise that he chooses Ben Mitchell to carve out a lovely arabesque line as he strides like a colossus over the tiny blue globe that races around and through his legs. Circles form a predominant theme in Mapping and in the centre of the sweeping, swirling forms is Sam Vaherlehto as a young explorer with camera in hand (perhaps Bhuller sending selfies to his father) quoting from the nuptial pyramid in Nijinska’s Les Noces. Vaherlehto seems to draw around him the other solos (Monin in particular has a lovely lyrical quality), duets and trios like a benevolent progenitor. He also has a sense of humour and thinks up a wonderful game. Laying down a line of white tape, he instructs his friends to lie on the floor with their feet or hands or heads on the tape. It would not be that interesting for the audience but a camera is placed high above the stage so the floor becomes vertical in its projection on the screen (see Tony Nandi’s photograph above). The game turns into a flight of fancy that sees dancers tumbling impossibly through the air to land effortlessly on their feet and hands, an acrobatic illusion that has the audience in thrall. The whole episode has a high feel-good factor mapping perhaps Bhuller’s own return from west to east.
Rambert at Theatre Royal BrightonPosted: February 28th, 2014 | Author:Nicholas Minns | Filed under:Performance | Tags:Barak Marshall, Christopher Bruce, Dutiful Ducks, Merce Cunningham, Rambert, Richard Alston, Rooster, Sounddance, The Castaways | 1 Comment »
Rambert Dance Company, Theatre Royal Brighton, February 26
Miguel Altunaga in Christopher Bruce’s Rooster (photo © Hugo Glendinning)
‘Twelve dancers trapped in a hell of their own making’ is how Barak Marshall describes his work for Rambert, The Castaways. They are certainly trapped, in an intriguing design by Jon Bausor that recreates a sub basement where refuse ends up after falling from a shoot that features prominently out of reach on one of the walls. At first sight the dancers lie on the floor as if they have just been emptied out. Jon Savage is the first to stir and introduces the cast like a compere in an underground cabaret. It is a catchy beginning, the archetypes expressed effectively in Bausor’s costumes and in the believable mix of characters among the dozen Rambert dancers. Then the first track of an eclectic playlist ‘taking in Balkan folk, Yiddish pop and Soviet pomp’ (arranged by Robert Millett and played live in the orchestra pit) starts and a dance begins, formed, shaped and cropped out of nowhere. From here to the end there is a sense of pastiche choreography, episodes of gratuitous violence and argument interspersed with group dances that resemble each other too closely with their flair for flamboyant despair. The only sparks fly from Estella Merlos and Miguel Altunaga who could be playing Anita and Bernardo in a Yiddish version of West Side Story. Intriguingly, there are similar character traits between The Castaways and Christopher Bruce’s Rooster: Vanessa Kang comes in for bullying in both, which is a bit worrying, and the men are unashamedly macho.
Richard Alston’s Dutiful Ducks, taken from the title of the sound score by Charles Amirkhanian, is a solo for Dane Hurst that begins in full flood and ends all too abruptly a few minutes later. Hurst is completely at home in this sinuous, fluid work and dances it to perfection, every little inflection and change of direction clearly and cleanly depicted. It may be short but the memory lingers.
There is a connection between Alston and Merce Cunningham that goes some way to introducing the latter’s Sounddance, though it is by no means a natural segue. Cunningham is an acquired taste and, I imagine, an acquired style that is uncompromisingly modern with a classical base. Sounddance is, according to Nancy Dalva, ‘a dance about dance, and about dancing.’ What marks it is the apparent lack of motivation, or linear construction, and there is an absence of any conceit or ego even if the presence of Cunningham the creator (with a wry sense of humour) is ever present. It is thus an opportunity to observe each dancer in the act of dancing, which is a treat (Adam Blyde and newcomer Carolyn Bolton stand out in this work). To a score by David Tudor (played with deafening enthusiasm by Robert Millett), Sounddance unfolds from a velvet-draped rococo screen through which Blyde swirls into being like the creator himself (this was a role Cunningham danced). His physical control and smooth dynamic contains the seed of the whole piece. The other dancers appear from the same velvet drapes one by one, increasing the complexity of the spatial and sexual interactions until the stage is close to controlled chaos before the dancers split off, one by one in a reversal of their entrances, passing back through the same curtained womb from which they had emerged. Blyde winds up the proceedings by whirling off at high speed.
There is one more work: Christopher Bruce’s Rooster, which has remained out of the company’s repertoire for thirteen years. The eight songs of the Rolling Stones to which Bruce created the work date it back even further to the 60s and 70s. Rooster is, Bruce writes, ‘a celebration of the music and of the times these tracks were recorded.’ It is also a celebration particularly of the men in the cast: Miguel Altunaga, Mbulelo Ndabeni, Adam Blyde, Dane Hurst and Stephen Wright who strut and soar with all the cockiness and virtuosity of the music, which is where Bruce uncovers the keys of his choreography, from the more obvious jutting thrust and pumping wings of the rooster that appear throughout as a leitmotif to the the more subtle courtly flourish suggested by the harpsichord in Lady Jane. You don’t see gratuitous steps in his work. The same sensitivity drives the choice of vivid costumes by Marian Bruce and the superb lighting by Tina McHugh. All these elements come together to create moments of pure magic: Altunaga as the prancing dandy in Little Red Rooster, light fading on Patricia Okenwa as Not Fade Away begins, Hurst’s non-stop twisted and contorted aerial solo in Paint it Black, and Merlos hurling herself into the arms of four men who throw her high into the air, long red dress flying, at the end of Ruby Tuesday. And while Wright has a fling with Kang in Play with Fire, a feather from her red boa lodges in his hair like a lick of flame or a devil’s horn for the start of Sympathy with the Devil. You couldn’t ask for better.
Bruce not only develops his own language and ideas, but he develops his dancers both technically and expressively. The excitement is palpable on both sides of the curtain.
Dance GB: Olympic feverPosted: July 19th, 2012 | Author:Nicholas Minns | Filed under:Performance | Tags:Christopher Bruce, Dance GB, English National Ballet, Itzik Galili, Martin Lawrance, National Dance Company Wales, Scottish Ballet | Comments Off on Dance GB: Olympic fever
Dance GB, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, July 6, 19:30
From the press release: The UK’s three national dance companies – Scottish Ballet, English National Ballet and National Dance Company Wales, will perform together for the first time in an Olympian inspired program featuring three specially commissioned works from leading contemporary choreographers.
In a parallel project with sixty young dancers from Scotland, England and Wales, three separate but related works involving both dance and parkour have been created in their respective countries and spliced into a heartwarming film by Nic Sandilands called Dancing Parallel which is shown at the beginning of the evening.
The setting in the big tent at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich is more like a large Punch and Judy show, with a faded blue velvet curtain drawn across the broad stage with a space above for a giant puppet master. In front of the tiered seating is a carpeted area for audience members to sit on pillows, blankets, inflatable mattresses or cushions. The tent flaps of the main entrance let in plenty of light, even when closed, but when the film starts it is just dark enough.
We see a hand reaching down to retrieve a partially submerged, wooden school chair out of the water and a young Welsh boy runs with it to a deserted building where he sets it down on a stone floor as a pommel horse and dancing partner. Welcome to the art of the sport of parkour. We see the boy’s legs, arms and torso arching over the chair during his routine, and when he finally sits, the camera pulls back to reveal his face. Cut to a windswept expanse of beach at low tide near Aberdeen. A boy gathers a chair from the wet sand and takes it to join his friends who have found similar chairs, which they form into a choreographic obstacle course on the beach. Cut to inside a dimly lit concrete basement, where these same friends put on a dance performance (choreographed by Emma-Jane McHenry and Lorraine Jamieson) for an audience of empty chairs. Cut to the same space with all the kids sitting in the chairs watching an empty space. Cut to an industrial, dockland warehouse in east London. The now familiar wooden chairs are bobbing in the water and a hand fishes them out one by one, passing them up a line of kids on a metal stairway into a vaulted brick space. We see the kids assimilating their dance movement phrases (choreographed by Laura Harvey, Danielle Jones and Hayley Arundel) then performing them all together for another audience of empty chairs, to the sounds of squeaking rubber soles. Cut to a close-up of an eye, that of the Welsh boy at the beginning. A fully expressed, sometimes wild and always poetic dance with chairs follows, choreographed by Jem Treays to street accordion continuum in the old NatWest Building in Cardiff. It begins with simple seated moves in unison, followed by a passage of movement around and over the chairs, then the kids lay them down, and a couple of boys dance with the equilibrium of the chairs on their feet. The performance is interrupted by the sound of an intruder; all the kids scatter to the recesses of the abandoned lobby. One hopes they will all have the courage to return to continue their dance.
I scoured the program for evidence of a clear mandate for the creation of the three commissioned works by Scottish Ballet, Dance Company Wales and English National Ballet, but if there is one, it is not elaborated. Christopher Bruce is unique in proposing to celebrate the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee together, and his Dream “is also a celebration of the sheer enjoyment of highly physical movement in all its forms.” For Martin Lawrance, choreographer of Run For It for Scottish Ballet, “The Olympics – like any live dance performance – challenges and celebrates an individual’s physicality and mindset. How do you just push that effort? How do you get to the next step, and the next, and the next? And if that ties into Einstein’s vision of dancers as God’s athletes, it also connects into our own lives whatever we do. You just have to get out there, run for it – and hope to win through on your journey.” Itzik Galili was more elusive when asked what the link was between the Olympics and his work for English National Ballet, And the Earth Shall Bear Again: “I feel like I am in the Olympic Games, just being in such a company!…2012 is a year of many beginnings, with potential for new world records…To me, it’s like the earth having its birth again.”
The work takes its title from one of the pieces for prepared piano by John Cage, composed in 1942, that Galili has used as his inspiration. There are various recordings, with a range of percussive tones, but the one used here by Boris Berman is more athletic than most and the amplification for this performance gives a particularly bass, almost distorted tone. Other works by John Cage used by Galili are Prelude for Meditation, The Perilous Night (4 & 6), Primitive, 3 Dances for prepared piano (excerpts), A Chance Operation, and Three Dances for Two Prepared Pianos, Dance #1.
Outgoing artistic director of English National Ballet, Wayne Eagling, intended to make Galili’s work the final offering on the program, as performed in Theatre Royal, Glasgow and Cardiff’s Wales Millenium Centre, but for technical reasons here in the tent it has been put first. Reading in the program how Galili uses light as a choreographic tool, I wonder where the lighting is going to come from as I don’t see any sophisticated lighting rig in the tent and there is evidently no fly tower. When the curtain slides open, the mystery is solved: designer Yaron Abulafia’s rig is an integral part of the stage design, some of the more sculptural elements being in plain view. I can see why you wouldn’t want to be setting this up during an intermission.
The stage is filled with atmospheric fog and we are immediately drawn into the murky darkness. What Abulafia has created is remarkable: a theatrical black hole from which dancers emerge into the light, or recede into latency at the will of the lighting designer and choreographer. As our eyes search for familiar form, we see the back of a dancer, too indistinct to know if it is male or female. This figure backs towards us into the diffused, triangular downlight, one fifth position at a time, the feet as closely spaced as the keys on a piano. The costume (designed by Natasja Lansen) is androgynous, worn by both male and female dancers: a black, transparent, sleeveless, net jerkin with its hem barely covering the buttocks. Legs and arms are bare, and reflect the light, while the torso absorbs it. The figure emerging from the mist is Esteban Berlanga. On the first brutally amplified note of Cage’s score, a girl walks across downstage from right to left. A line of dancers cross in the other direction, like a keyboard advancing across the stage, leaving a dancer in the centre with Berlanga, duplicating his movement. The line returns, sweeping away the first dancer and leaving another in her place. Others arrive; there are six on stage who are then joined by another twelve to complete the full complement of eighteen. The percussive nature of the score lends itself to fierce physicality and staccato movement. On two consecutive notes a girl jumps and is caught in the boy’s arms, like two pieces of a puzzle locking together, a movement repeated five times with five other couples. The limbs, because they reflect the light and are used in exaggerated extension, are the principal elements of the dance. Faces are not revealed as clearly, adding to the effect of a gesticulating forest of limbs emanating from mobile trunks. The girls are on point, accentuating the already attenuated lines. The movement is predominantly linear, launched in all directions, so when Nancy Osbaldeston pulls off a beautifully controlled multiple turn, sculpted to perfection in the light, its spiral form takes the breath away. If there is a sense of the title in the movement, it is this emergence of form from chaos.
If the energetic, athletic movement is a constant, Galili modulates it with a succession of male and female duets and trios – although the ultra-flexible movement of overextended legs and arms common to both male and female dancers blurs the sexual distinction – and with interesting dynamic juxtapositions: a mass of movement pauses leaving one girl dancing alone. Towards the end, Berlanga returns to a solo after which he is engulfed once more in the vapour from which he emerged, and a girl walks quickly from left to right across the stage. In the end is the beginning.
In Christopher Bruce’s Dream, the opening is all heart and amateur athletics from a bygone era: a tug of war, egg-and-spoon races, wheelbarrow races, leap-frog, three-legged races and sack races, overlaid with the sound of children’s excited voices. One couple takes a tumble and gets back up to continue the fun (they do it again later, so it’s not an accident). The backdrop is divided horizontally into two sections. The top three quarters is black and the bottom strip is white. All the races take place in front of it, giving the impression of an early home 8mm movie being spooled from one side of the stage to another. Guy Hoare’s lighting adds a touch of faded yellow to the action to complete the effect. This is Bruce looking back on his first memories of the celebrations and street parties for both the 1952 jubilee and coronation the following year, the only work on the program to anchor itself in a specific time and place. As the opening music finishes, one man is caught half way across the stage in his sack race; a poignant moment, as if the era had suddenly passed and he was unsure where he was going. After the festive events of the day, all the participants are standing in the street looking out at us – the future – dreaming of a better world.
The black backdrop descends, covering the white filmstrip: this is the real thing, set to the last movement of Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales. Bruce takes simple body moves like stretching, running in place, rubbing shoulders, wave patterns and cartwheels as phrases that will be developed throughout the work. Four boys enter, good sports running around, practicing sprint starts, then joining together, arms around the waist, walking forward towards us. We hear a crowd roar at the scoring of a goal. The men run off, and Camille Giraudeau enters, her long red hair accentuated in the circle of light. To the rhythm of the introductory phrases of Ravel’s Boléro, Gaudreau shakes out her feet and legs. Such disarmingly natural movement makes this over-familiar music fresh again. Four other girls join, each performing a different exercise that develops into dance movement. Gaudreau, with Ravel, repeats the opening phrases, and the five girls dance together in a beautiful, musically precise, off-balance variation. The boys return; a duo of kicking and boxing morphs into wrestling and deliciously into a waltz before another boy breaks it up. Two girls are joined by a third in a bowling motif, after which they link arms and swing their hips as they sway upstage. Four boys play football; the girls lie on the ground in a circle kicking their legs in the crawl; two boys fence and shake hands; a basketball gesture becomes a dance phrase with more swinging hips, then a duo enters skating, in an inevitable reference to Torvill and Deane’s gold medal performance at the 1984 Olympics. Two boys sprint across the back to the trombone solo. A trio of two boys and a girl, then all six girls build the physical complexity of the dance with the music, though Bruce pulls back to repeat that opening phrase once again. The javelin throw is followed by a group of four men in a marathon walk, handkerchiefs on head, which develops into a brilliant canon of girls who then pose while the sparky Naomi Tadevossian performs a lightning solo, leading the girls into a line. Now four men jump and a team of oarsmen cross the stage, two girls spin, the four men hurdle and the crescendo culminates in a triple black flip to a rock solid gymnastic pose, arms raised in celebration. There is applause, as the Boléro has ended, but there is an epilogue, to Grace Williams’ upbeat second movement from her Penillion, Allegro (and how) con fuoco. The men and women return to the street sports, to the sack races, the egg and spoon races, the three-legged race (the couple falls again), wheelbarrow races, and leapfrogging. In a final fling, eggs are tossed – and caught – before the street party winds up and the participants resume their opening positions in the dusk, looking dreamily out and up at the audience. Dream is full of heart, infused with a sense of humour and a nostalgic sense of sportsmanship without being soppy, and not so literally sporty as to be imitative, but rather celebrating the proximity of sport and dance.
Martin Lawrance’s Run For It is aptly named and with a score like John Adams’ Son of Chamber Symphony the wind is behind the dancers, blowing them along relentlessly. There are apparently subtle quotations from the Olympic sports though I only noticed the swimming gestures. It is is a very musical piece, though because of Adams’ pace and because Lawrance seems to have choreographed most of the accents in the many layers of music, the dancers have to maintain an inexorable momentum to keep up. As in Galili’s work, the movements of men and women are equally athletic and supple, with the girls on pointe, though the speed-enhancing costumes (by Yumiko Takeshima) clearly differentiate the sexes. The slow movement provides a respite, musically and choreographically, with a series of duets and trios with swapping partners on contrasted sequences – one lifting, the other turning – to the same music. Arabesques and deep lunges flow nicely with lovely lines, the technique is clean and the rhythms bright, but aerial shapes are less interesting. When four men lift one of the women, she appears (perhaps understandably) more manhandled than partnered and her shape is lost. Once the men have put her down and left, she recovers in a solo to deserved applause before the finale kicks in. A man’s flying entrance heralds a succession of energetic entrances but the movement vocabulary begins to run low on inspiration and the energy seems to flag, though the dancers regain their control of the score supported by what sounds like an entire farmyard of instrumentation with an energizing dose of percussion. By the time the rapid marching band of cymbals starts up, all the dancers are on stage, finishing in a tight group, with one man circling around them and dancing off at a tangent into the wings; a winding down, as in the music.
The sculptural stage design by the 2011 Turner Prize winner, Martin Boyce, incorporates a Greek column to remind us of the origin of the games. The column, which commands a good portion of the stage, supports a roof of interlocking, transparent forms like a collection of identical 1960’s white lampshades. Indeed, the lighting (by Charles Balfour) is diffused through this honeycomb ceiling, lending it various suffused shades of red and blue. Its height from the stage – perhaps a function of the tent’s limited vertical space – tends to press down on the dancers and Adams’ music belongs to another era and another kind of landscape: an odd contest in which there is no clear winner.