Return to Heaven

Mark Bruce
Mark Bruce Company

Eleanor Duval, Carina Howard and Dane Hurst Credit: Nicole Guarino
Eleanor Duval and Dane Hurst Credit: Nicole Guarino
Eleanor Duval and Dane Hurst Credit: Nicole Guarino
Christopher Thomas and Sharol Mackenzie Credit: Nicole Guarino

Mark Bruce’s latest piece of dance theatre is dark and mysterious, drawing ideas and images from sources as different as the Egyptian Book of the Dead and zombie movies and music by Penderecki, Nishimura and Pärt that matches its surreal fantasy but alternates with deafening rock and some lilting songs sung by Harry Belafonte.

Its narrative, in so far as it has one, is constantly changing. When the audience enters, there is a man making notes or writing up a log at a makeshift table, someone encamped on expedition perhaps, while far beyond, people seem to be cooking or it could be a soup kitchen. Images disappear into darkness and others emerge: Guy Hoare’s lighting turns everything into a vision as it selects what we see. A body lies on the ground downstage but suddenly you notice it has gone.

There is a setting we return to of a tree by a lake, the moon in the sky. Should we think Swan Lake, is there a Robart? A blonde girl (Carina Howard) appears dancing, madly twisting and turning: is this a Giselle-like tragedy? There is a figure with the head of Anubis, then it is gone and there is a man there.

There is a women on this expedition too, her back covered in ancient Egyptian texts, her face marked with a star shape. Is this an Indiana Jones-like adventure? Later there will be a sarcophagus-like locked box and a mummy case and brought-to-life ancient Egyptians.

What might be a carved head of Horus is brought in, but in the low light it could be a snake’s snout, a god from a pre-Columbian culture, and a women carries a carved classical Greek head. A light in the sky falls to earth and the stage is crawling with alien creatures, a man is put into an aeronaut’s outfit and rockets off into space.

Meanwhile, the through-line seems to be the pair of adventurers making their way through a country where militia toting automatic weapons halt them and where they find ancient artefacts but attract the attention of vampires. There are what seem to be flashbacks to a romantic time of idyllic happiness.

One of the apparitions presents the woman with a key in the form of the hieroglyphic Ankh symbol that represents life and the whole work seems a stream of consciousness structure that could represent the life experience of one couple or stand for the whole span of human existence. It works not through any obvious logic but because of its theatricality. Hands writhe from behind a woman’s head: are they the snake-hair of Medusa? They slip down her back and, with a change in the lighting, she is dancing to Belafonte singing “Scratch, Scratch”. Tentacles reach out and encircle the woman who is trying to reach a strange light in a tree. Shapes appear out of nowhere. A mouth stretches wide to match the screech in the music.

Dane Hurst and Eleanor Duval make a strong central couple, a beautiful partnership; Christopher Thomas and Sharol Mackenzie make another couple that sometimes seem like their avatars. Carina Howard becomes a clipboard-clutching scientist running an experiment in which they are guinea pigs (or victims). Jordi Calpe Serrats is a dangerous presence.

These are all accomplished dancers and, however effectively they writhe to present horror movie encounters and act out situations, I can’t help wishing there was more actual dance in this theatrical offering. When they do dance, Bruce’s choreography is even more dramatic in its impact and when it is matched to Belfonte’s songs becomes sheer delight, full of the joy of life.

Return to Heaven will continue its tour to: 17–18 March: Theatre Royal, Winchester; 27–28 March: DanceEast, Ipswich; 28–29 April: Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Canolfan y Celfyddydau.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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