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Thursday, September 29, 2022

Mark Bruce: Phantoms review – a broodingly cinematic dance triple bill | Dance

Mark Bruce has always been driven by music, feeding off it like a vulture in the desert – that’s the kind of imagery he might use, drawn to darkness, Americana and violent urges. In this triple bill, each piece takes a different musical direction. Bruce is not the only person to choreograph to the White Stripes (see: Wayne McGregor’s Chroma), but in Green Apples he does it in the spirit of the garage band themselves.

Two dancers (one male, one female) are dressed in red and black like Jack and Meg White – jeans, vest, tattoos and some of that couple’s ambiguity (were they siblings or spouses?). There’s pressure and resistance, a look of relish on Bryony Harrison’s face, her body twanging with the tension of a bass guitar string (not that the two-piece had a bassist). Bruce’s choreographer father, Christopher, made Rooster to the music of the Rolling Stones; Bruce Jr seems to be working towards the rawer, scuzzier modern equivalent.

Two dancers perform Green Apples
Earning their Stripes … Green Apples. Photograph: Mark Bruce

The company of five dance to Martin Simpson’s folk songs in Folk Tales, brutal yarns of murder and grief, but the dance is knowing and laced with comedy. Carina Howard launches into a fantastic jig, with perfect pas de chat and sissones thrown in. Jonathan Goddard is a master at playing the haunted, hollow and insidious, but he moves like an angel, with unbelievable lightness: the silken swoop of a leg brushing the air, his sudden speed and detail, his ability to almost control the friction between his body and the air.

In the programme’s main work, Phantoms, Bruce gets to live out his Nick Cave fantasies, having composed and sung the music himself. It’s a dance built on movie tropes. Loners and outcasts, a sociopathic preacher, a fallen angel; the land of Johnny Cash shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die; Lynch and Tarantino (a woman brandishing knives is pure Uma Thurman). With a sparse set, it’s hugely atmospheric, bright footlights masking scene changes where characters materialise and disappear. There’s an indulgence about it and it loses its way for a little while in the instrumentals, lost in the emptiness of these characters’ souls. Bruce is best when tied to a song, where he thrives.

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