Phantoms - A Triple Bill
Mark Bruce Company
Wilton's Music Hall
For his latest triple bill, Mark Bruce and his designer Phil Eddolls have shrouded the stage in thick mist which only Guy Hoare’s lighting can cut through, though later we get glimpses of a road through a barren landscape, a high-rise city silhouette and a glowering moon. It is an evening full of intense feeling and fragmented nightmare. You couldn’t be further from sweetness of sugar plum fairies, this is rawly exciting.
The programme opens with Green Apples, first created in 2006, and danced by Christopher Thomas and Bryony Harrison to music by Jack White performed by The White Stripes. A circle of rope is laid out on the ground like a sumo ring ready for a contest and out of the darkness the combatants appear to the deafening garage-rock wearing Jack and Meg White’s signature black red and white.
At first, there is display: sweeping arms, turns and leaps interspersed with sudden stillnesses as the contenders size up each other. As the battle develops, blows lash out as they spin around, then they are shoulder to shoulder like rutting stags, you can almost see antlers interlocked. Swung over a back, a body rolls on the floor. Defeated? No, just exhausted. The fight continues: this is the sex war in raw reality. It demands, and gets, a great performance.
Folk Tales, which follows, is a new work, danced to Martin Simpson’s arrangements of traditional British folk songs and jigs that crossed the Atlantic. It begins, in lively contrast to the violence of Green Apples, with Carina Howard in a blue dress sprightly prancing to “Soldier’s Joy” as she waves a handkerchief and blows kisses to the boys. Then there is “Beaulambkin”, its choreography re-enacting its dark drama with Jonathan Goddard as the revenging killer. He manages to be murderous yet still dance with stylish elegance. The sad tale of “Betsy the Serving Maid” packed off to slavery to prevent a young lord wedding beneath him. Darkness alternates with sunshine, more songs follow and Carina is back blending Celtic folk steps with entrechats.
After the interval comes the main work of the evening: Phantoms, for which Bruce provides his own music and lyrics. The stage is again heavily misted; we can’t see past the row of lights on the front of the stage which will repeatedly block our vision as he switches between a succession of vignettes that seem to recall nightmares.
First out of the mist is a wolf that seems all head, its limbs flailing as it rushes forward. Then there is a young man and a woman with a Bren gun who frees the man’s tied hands and gives him a bag with a book. There’s a piano, a pianist and sometimes a little winged devil sitting atop it, a woman waving knives, a coffin that will reveal its occupant, an incursion of figures from the Mexican Día de los Muertos. Later, the young man is in a limousine as the other phantoms surround him. Meanwhile, in the midst of these fleeting apparitions are Jonathan Goddard and Eleanor Duval dancing a romantic duo.
There is an atmosphere of danger, the menace of the horror movie and American gangster land offering no obvious logic, no easy narrative, but that is the nature of nightmare. Bruce has become a master at creating such dark worlds and evoking them through his own style of dance. Phantoms left me wanting more clarity, but the sweep of the choreography and the skill of the dancers hold the attention and make this work compelling.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton