Mark Bruce Company, Wilton's Music Hall, London
Ballroom of Joys and Sorrows, Palace Theatre, Watford
If you see a wilder hour on a British stage this year, I'll eat his hat
Sunday 03 June 2012
One is tempted to call Mark Bruce a master of the unexpected, but that wouldn't be entirely true. A Mark Bruce Company event is a savage combustion of loud music and eclectic movement in which certain elements can be relied on. Smoke. Darkness. Heavy rock. And an anarchic smear of grunge.
Bruce, then (who happens to be the son of veteran choreographer Christopher), is no mere chip off the block. And Made In Heaven, his latest touring offering, is like no piece of dance theatre this critic has seen. To say that it has a story (sort of) and characters (sort of) and a smattering of speech makes it sound like a musical. Perish the thought. This is the most off-the-leash 70 minutes you are likely to witness on a British stage, complete with murder, incest, crooked cops, and a life-size articulated shark.
To begin with, there's a crescendo: a tingling, eardrum-threatening crescendo on a single electric guitar chord that continues for 10 minutes while a young girl in a gingham frock lies asleep by the hull of a boat. Her dream – both heavenly and hellish – is what follows, to a soundtrack that segues from Debussy's Clair de Lune to chain-gang songs to Leonard Cohen to punk. Only briefly does the dream alight on romantic bliss, in a smug duet with a sailor on shore leave. After that it's all downhill into a fragmented nightmare about a trigger-happy Mississippi cop who guards a paradise island of handcuffed female convicts – which you could read, if you felt so inclined, as the girl's virginity.
Along the way she witnesses the brutal murder of a mermaid (a cracker of a scene, complete with billowing silk waves and a sawn-off tail resembling a hunk of tuna steak), and a failed attempt to escape the island by speedboat (cue the hungry shark, courtesy of puppeteers Pickled Image). In its craziness, of course, this is just how real dreams feel, comedy and horror mingling in a way that seems normal to the dreamer in the moment, highbrow and trash colliding too.
If it's hard to pigeonhole Bruce's maverick vision (Tarantino meets the Coens' Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? meets Hawaii Five-O), it's even harder to pin down his choreographic style, which reinvents itself every five minutes, from decorous ballet to voodoo juddering to a cancan for foxy female cops. A final party rumba sets the seal on this unusual hybrid, complete with savage jolts, soft porn and belly laughs.
On paper, Ballroom of Joys and Sorrows looked to be aiming at similar territory, charting "a journey of being alive, of discovery and growth, of transition from child to adult" in song and dance. Directed and choreographed by Kate Flatt (choreographer of Les Misérables) it incorporated professional dancer-actors and a folk band with a cast of 50 local people.
Projects involving amateurs present a critical conundrum. Should their status confer immunity from harsh judgement? Or, given that PRs have been hired to drum up critical interest, should they expect equal treatment with the pros? In this case, my problem lay with the concept rather than with its delivery. Lord knows there have been some great pieces of physical theatre created on untrained bodies. Take Pina Bausch's Kontakthof, in which she applied her strictest practice to a bunch of over-60s from a single German town.
In Ballroom, though, there's too clear a division between amateur and pro. The latter do the singing and the dancing; the rest stand around and mug. At one point they're allowed to walk holding a sheet on a stick – a fleet of ships! Once, just once, they join in a chorus. To judge by their intense focus, these people would do anything Kate Flatt suggested. She simply needed some better ideas and to ask of her amateurs much, much more.
Mark Bruce Co (www.markbruce company.com), touring till Jul; 'Ballroom ...', Cecil Sharp House, London (0844 888 9991), 7 Jun
You wait years for a chance to see a work by the late Pina Bausch ... and then 12 come along at once. And the bad news? Each is on for only two nights and it's been returns-only for months. Fans, however, will queue twice around the block to see the classic Viktor, the opening show at London's Sadler's Wells (Wed & Thu), and Nur Du (Only You) at the Barbican (Sat & Sun).
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rarest Beanie Baby bought for just £10 at car boot sale could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 2 Katie Hopkins and The Sun editor David Dinsmore reported to police for incitement to racial hatred following migrant boat column
- 3 Giorgio Armani criticises the way some gay men dress saying 'a man has to be a man'
- 4 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
- 5 Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Star Wars 7: George Lucas admits he hasn't seen The Force Awakens trailer
Star Wars: Rogue One trailer: Watch the teaser for the Jedi-less Death Star heist film
Avengers Age of Ultron 'after credits' scene leaks online days before cinema release
Groundhog Day musical to premiere at Old Vic from Matilda theatre director
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate