Christopher Bruce is one of the UK's leading choreographers and is currently
Artistic Director of Rambert Dance Company, having worked in the past
with what is now English National Ballet and Houston Ballet, among others.
Ballet Rambert evolved in 1935 from Dame Marie Rambert's Ballet Club.
In the early years of its history, the Company performed classical ballet,
including the first UK performance of La Sylphide. However, by
1966 the strains involved in being a medium-size touring ballet company
were taking their toll and in a bold move, Dame Marie switched the Company
to contemporary dance. To reflect this change, the name of the Company
was changed in 1987 to Rambert Dance Company. They are the largest contemporary
dance company in the UK and enjoy a high reputation around the world.
Bruce was an outstanding dancer with the Company and his
classic performance in Tetley's Pierrot Lunaire was recorded
by the BBC. From an early stage, he was nurtured as a choreographer
by Dame Marie and his first major triumph was Cruel Garden, a
full-length collaboration with Lindsay Kemp. Rambert recently revived
the work to much acclaim. He continues to have great success as a choreographer
and is known for his skill in grafting folk dance steps into balletic
movement vocabulary and his use of social themes as a source of inspiration
for dance works.
For the past two years, Amnesty International UK and Rambert
have worked together on publicity and the preparation of schools material
for Swansong, an outstanding piece of dance-drama based on the
interrogation of a prisoner by two guards. As Rambert revives another
of Bruce's works, Ghost Dances, I interviewed him on the theme
of dance and human rights.
As a starting point, I asked Bruce why a choreographer
might include human rights themes in his work, particularly as there
is a view that the arts should only be concerned with creating beauty.
He replied that, for himself, social and political themes emerge naturally
as a reflection of his own concerns, although his aim is always firstly
to create a piece of dance, rather than to make a statement. Nevertheless,
he does not see a conflict between creating interesting movement and
tackling difficult issues. He believes that there is much beauty in
Ghost Dances and similar works, just as in the First World War
poems of Wilfred Owen. Turning to propaganda pieces, such as the work
of film-maker Leni Riefenstahl for the Nazis, he told me that a touch-stone
is whether there is some underlying truth behind the piece, inspired
by a desire to promote civilised behaviour, rather than just an attempt
to shape opinion.
In the 1970s, the focus for Bruce and many others was
South America and Pinochet's bloody coup against the elected Allende
government in Chile. He recalls the powerful impact of meeting Joan
Jara, the widow of the musician and composer Victor, who was tortured
and murdered by Pinochet's forces. This meeting lead him to choreograph,
Ghost Dances. He described how he took the theme of the Day of
the Dead, simple symbolism and indigenous dance movements as a basis
to convey the plight of the innocent people of South American down the
ages and their courage in the face of adversity. Certainly, Ghost
Dances has a tremendous impact and audiences in many countries have
delighted in its distinctive, rhythmic movement performed to haunting
South American tunes. However, it is the representation of the oppression
of ordinary people, symbolised by the sinister ghost figures, which
give the work much of its resonance. A recent video showing at a local
UK Amnesty group meeting drew comments such as brilliant
and very moving.
Bruce agrees that, on the evidence of Ghost Dances,
Swansong and Cruel Garden (about the death of Lorca at
the hands of the Fascists in Spain), human rights themes have provided
him with a strong source of inspiration. He remains a passionate advocate
for the role of dance and the arts in society and believes that seeing
good work and the chance to perform, either as an amateur or a professional,
can not only enrich lives, but can also be a civilising influence.
Rambert Dance Company is performing Ghost
Dances as part of a mixed programme in the second half of 1999 and
in further venues in 2000 in the UK and Continental Europe. A number
of local Amnesty International groups have already had information stalls
and collections in the theatres included in the tour, which continues
in Cologne, London, Munich and Canterbury and other venues in 2000.
Details about all of the forthcoming performances by the Company can
be obtained by phoning Rambert Dance Company on +44 181 995 4246 or
by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Stuart Sweeney on 01689 851501
or email@example.com for more information about Dance and Human
(This article was first published in the
November 1999 edition of the Amnesty International UK Groups Newsletter.)
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