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04 Mar 2022

Image Credit: Photography by Mark Bruce

Hi Mark, thanks for chatting to us today! It’s been a strange couple of years for everybody but an especially challenging time for live performance. Is it good to be back?

It’s great to be building towards performing before a live audience; to share all we’ve been creating in isolation with the real world. Nothing can replace this experience.

How did the pandemic affect Mark Bruce Company – how did you all get through it and did you find ways of making work?

In the first lockdown we lost the last four venues of our Return to Heaven tour, and the film we were scheduled to make of the production; but we got off relatively lightly compared to many companies – some having to close just as they were about to open shows. The prolonged periods of isolation caused by the pandemic coincided with the fact that creatively I needed to deal with a backlog of ideas that were becoming increasingly chaotic – splintering all over the place, simultaneously forming different projects and crossing over different mediums including film and music. I am realistic about how long, and how much investment some projects require to be formed into something coherent, and before the pandemic I had resigned myself to that fact that I would never have the time to see through the challenges of some ideas.

The main challenge of Phantoms was that I wanted to compose the music, and lockdown gave me the chance and the time.  Phantoms was originally 1.5 hours but I continually redrafted the production – as a writer or film editor would do – and continued this process while snatching short and very intensive periods of research with dancers. Choreographically we stacked up a lot of material, and again much of this has been edited down ready for another draft.

Tell us more about the music you composed for Phantoms…

I worked with Gareth Williams, a brilliant jazz pianist, on interpreting some compositions I wrote for guitar, as well as simply presenting him with songs and asking him to play whatever he felt was right. I also worked with Eva Trodd, a wonderfully talented vocalist whose instinctive contributions have taken the music to another level. We managed to get Eva to the South West and into the recording studio for a few days, but Gareth and I collaborated remotely.

As always I hope the evening invigorates and inspires an audience. I hope it stirs and triggers the subconscious, allows it to breathe, perhaps even take over for a while. I hope its freedom of imagination allows the viewer to find their own internal garden of Eden for just a while.

Mark Bruce
Let’s talk about each piece in the triple bill. First up, Green Apples

I’ve always wanted to bring Green Apples back. It is a very popular piece. The pandemic gave me the chance to think about remounting it, which has taken over 15 years! It’ll be great to perform this piece for a generation that will never have seen it before. It celebrates the experience of a live visceral performance. The music of The White Stripes will never lose its raw power.

How about Folk Tales?

I first discovered the music of Martin Simpson in the mid-80s, and immediately began choreographing to it while I was training at the Rambert School. I saw Martin play live and spoke to him about what I was doing and he came into the school on a Sunday and we performed the work for him. I continued to choreograph to his music for several years after that, at home and abroad, and have always followed his work.

Martin’s approach to his instrument has strongly influenced me choreographically, particularly his combining of different right hand techniques, and his use of open tunings. In the time of reflection that lockdown offered I had a chance to begin sketching out some new ideas to some of his renditions of traditional songs. The work flowed very easily and I remembered how rewarding it is to choreograph to all the possibilities his playing instigates. I wanted to bring a celebratory element to the dancing in the triple bill and the ideas for Folk Tales evolved quickly.

And finally, Phantoms!

The whole evening features very different choreographic styles. There is a lot of material in it. Green Apples is a blast. Folk Tales is quick footed, articulate and intricate. All the pieces entertain, but Phantoms is a darker reflection on things. Phantoms is typical of the cinematic dance theatre MBC has been producing for many years with long term collaborators Phil Eddolls (set), Guy Hoare (light) and Dorothee Brodrück (costume). It will be visually arresting. Every scene and every character is archetypal, and deals with different states of being, of how we allow these states to lead us – albeit – drag us, and the subsequent consequences, external and internal to ourselves and others. It has the feeling of an Ancient Greek Tragedy – but wrapped in a retro thriller adventure on the road in a futuristic savage garden of Eden…

Tell us about your dancers…

It is great to be in the studio with Jonathan Goddard again. He is a long term collaborator and we are still exploring and discovering so much. I look forward to continuing the dancing partnership between Jon and Eleanor Duval.  Elle has danced with the company since 2005 and this will be her eighth production. As always Elle and Jon are able to lure us down into the darkness; to emerge embodying its power, mystery, humour and a myriad of emotions and truths.

I have spent a lot of time with Carina Howard over the last few years developing choreographic language; her energy is incredible and she loves the challenge of dancing complex material, which in turn challenges me – revealing possibilities to be explored. She has, as do all the cast, the ability to hold the stage and I have witnessed this power increase with every production she has danced in.

I have also witnessed Christopher Thomas grow as a dancer and performer. He has a great instinct for embodying characters –  stepping over the edge to see what emerges, and it has been great collaborating on his character in Phantoms.

Bryony Harrison joins us for the first time which is great because our paths haven’t crossed before now.  Bryony entering the world of Phantoms is a very exciting proposition for us all.

What do you hope our audiences take away with them?

As always I hope the evening invigorates and inspires an audience. I hope it stirs and triggers the subconscious, allows it to breathe, perhaps even take over for a while. I hope its freedom of imagination allows the viewer to find their own internal garden of Eden for just a while.