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Transcript of GHOST DANCES
South American Folk Music
Set design by
Costume design by
Running time approximately 30 minutes
Cast: 11 dancers (5 women and 6 men)
Ghost Dances was created for Ballet Rambert and first performed on the 3rd July 1981 at the Bristol Theatre Royal (Old Vic).
Ghost Dances is a one-act dance work in which three skeletal Ghost Dancers await a group of Dead who will re-enact moments from their lives before passing on.
I made this ballet for the innocent people of South America, who from the time of the Spanish Conquests have been continuously devastated political oppression. I would like to give my thanks to Joan Jara for her help and to Inti-Illimani for the inspiration of their performance
CHRISTOPHER BRUCE (Programme note July 1981)
The Ghost Dancers
The ghost dancers are three skeleton like men.
They are present on set throughout the production from the moment the curtain rises till the point it falls.
Christopher Bruce described them as having “hung around for millions of years, and lying on the rocks like… animals. They’d become birds and lizards as well as men.”
They are said to be spirts, guardians of the rocky, barren ‘no-man’s land’ at the mouth of the cave where the work is set, and the present death itself.
Papel de Plata
I wish I had some silver paper
And a pen of gold
To write a letter
To my favourite woman.
Ahi little dove,
Ahi my heart,
How long must this pain endure.
A playful, flirtatious, youthful dance for the peasant boy who, after a solo in which he introduces the movement material for the dance, is joined by four women. This number focuses on small, neat folk steps. Th dance moves across the stage from side to side with fast little heel-first walks, followed by jumps from one foot to another and changes of direction signaled by arm gestures at shoulder level. The women's bodies are turned sideways to face the audience and weighted forwards by their drooping arms. The man first watches them and then partners them as a group, facing them with his back to the audience. After partnering three of the women individually, the man runs across to a new partner and comes face to face with one of the Ghost Dancer who takes his arm, places it on his shoulder in the manner already used in the dance, and simply and undramatically leads him away.
The costumes are best referred to in three groups. The Ghost Dancers’ costumes are clearly very different from those of their victims but those for the Dead can be sub- divided into those which suggest two racial groups - native South Americans and people of European origin. This enhances the impression that the dead come from a variety of backgrounds and have been bought together by the universal experience of death.
About Christopher Bruce...
1) Opening section-
Ojoz Azules (
The opening dance for the three Ghost Dancers falls in two parts. The first performed without musical accompaniment, to the recorded sound of wind. The second begins with the distant sound of Ojos Azules, announcing the arrival of The Dead and towards the end of this dance their appearance at the mouth of the cave. Bruce has described the Ghost Dancers as being hungry to devour the next group of The Dead.
Bruce has said that the Ghost Dancers are birds and lizards as well as men. To show this, Bruce has used bird-like movements -notably attitudes with the supporting leg in plié, with bold wing-like outspread arms, and the bird like scratching of the lower calf by the other foot. Bruce has repeatedly likened the Ghost Dancers to condors (huge Andean vultures, large enough to carry off a llama) with their threatening predatory actions. The Ghost Dancers also perform sinuous reptilian movements by wary animals, punctuating their movements by striking movements of stillness when all three stop and concentrate on distant sounds.
A 'folk lament' which begins as a light, fleet dance to guitar music. It is a sextet for 3 men and 3 women dancing in unison and the three man also performing their similar material in unison. Much is danced in lines, men and women moving in counterpoint to one another, the back line frequently moving through to the front. Periodically men and women come together as partners. The lively dance with small steps becomes weightier with larger, stronger steps (men introduce bold pliés). The three Ghost Dancers intrude violently, throwing the men to the ground and then take their places while sizing up the women. They boldly repeat the last section performed by the men and then the women too are killed, lifted as if hanged above the Ghost Dancers' heads in the eerie green light.
Be sad for my sorrows,
if you have ever loved me
And teach me to be happy
Because I was born unhappy.
A duet for the women in red and the man in the suit which may be said to encapsulate the experience of Victor and Joan Jara. This is a danced conversation in which the distressed woman appears to know her man is to be taken away and executed. It could be interpreted as her thoughts as she waits for the inevitable knock on the door, or she relives the terrible experience, trying to bring back his memory. It can also be taken to reflect the experience of all the partners of 'the Disappeared' in the Chilean coup of 1973.
The section begins with the woman performing a sorrowful solo. Her material is developed from the searching run and a series of movements that are described on the original Benesh notation score as 'reaching forward hopefully', 'heart broken sob' and 'symbolically wiping tears from face'. Once the man joins her they embrace with a sense of urgency and carr on dancing their distressed duet until the man walks towards the Ghost Dancers, accepting martyrdom. He dies in agony, revealed in helpless bicycling movements of the legs and the juddering of the body.
The music for this section evokes the walk of the llama. This is a more innocent duet than the first, danced by the man in the white shirt and colourful tie and the woman in the white dress. This is another lively, playful dance. Apart from the opening accompanied by guitar and a brief introspective pause part way through, like a dark cloud passing, it is not imbued with such a sense of foreboding, making the sudden “death” at the end more shocking. In the introduction the man and woman walk forward holding hands. The man looks at the woman and maintains his gaze at the empty space as she walks around him. When she returns to her starting position she looks at him and a broad grin appears on his face. He holds out the long end of his tie to the woman who leads him off as he performs a llama-like walk (possibly a teasing game from childhood). He breaks into a series of wheeling turns, arms outspread, then into a stepping, shrugging, animal movement which the woman watches until he reaches for her hand and pulls her past him in a grand jeté. He repeats some of his material watched by the woman, who runs to him, is lifted up and then they embrace. After she is given a piggyback they dance in unison, repeating the wheeling movement and ‘leading the llama’. After the woman jumps up for a second piggyback she suddenly falls backwards from the man’s back into the arms of a reclining Ghost Dancer.
Throughout this dance all three Ghost Dancers lurk upstage and, although watchful, take no part in this number (the re-enactments of death being postponed until the repeat of Ojos Azules). This together with the heroic, defiant gestures of the dancers, particularly at the outset of the number, gives it a more positive and hopeful
mood than the other dances. It is the only dance performed by all the Dead and without any doubt it provides the climax to the production.
It begins with the woman in red dancing the defiant signature phrase, followed by the heroic gesture, both of which become the basic motifs of the dance. She is joined progressively by her partner (the man in the suit) who performs the same movement material and then the other six, two by two. Each pair performs in unison to create a cumulative canon; then the dancers fall into two lines of four whose movements are performed in similar counterpoint to the sextet in the Huajra, with lines passing through one another. This develops into a farandole-like chain-dance of lighter, faster steps which breaks up into almost hysterical whirling. This element of frenzy is only found in Sicuriadas.
During the Sicuriadas the Ghost Dancers have slipped
behind the rocks at the back of the stage. As the strains
of Ojos Azules are heard again the Ghost Dancers
stealthily emerge from their hiding places behind the
rocks which they mount, towering above their victims,
and slowly and deliberately walk downstage. As they
pass between them their standing victims crumple. At
the front of the stage the Ghost Dancers again link arms
and repeat the chain-dance first seen in the opening
section, while the Dead re-group into their opening cluster led by the women in red, upstage left, to complete
their progress off downstage right. Although their faces are again without expression, their eyes fixed ahead, this time they perform a more stylised, shuffling walk and as they advance they wheel around, first turning upstage then downstage before exiting. The Ghost Dancers then take up their opening positions gazing upstage left, apparently awaiting their next consignment of Dead.
The Ghost Dancers, represented as figures of death, are dehumanised skeletal creatures in skull-masks with matted hair, their near-naked bodies painted with water-based makeup to outline the muscle groups and emphasise bone structure. Apart from their masks and body paint, the Ghost Dancers’ costumes consist of black bands of loose rags and feathers round their waists, upper arms, wrists and just below their knees. The materials on these ‘skirts’ and bands show a wide variety of textures in a range of blacks. They include plumber’s tow (coarse and broken hemp), strips of leather, various fabrics, unravelled dressing-gown cord and turkey and cockerel feathers, with their spines removed, and stitched to ribbons.The skull-masks cover the full face. They were inspired by photographs of Bolivian masks with hair and feathers attached. The Ghost Dancers’ masks are modelled, painted and textured to suggest the last shred of flesh might be still attached. They have large dark, hollow eye holes. This places an emphasis on the empty sockets while enabling the dancers to see clearly through their masks. Jaws are slightly open revealing a few remaining teeth. The straggly, flowing hair is made from plumber’s tow dyed black.
The Ghost Dancers
The dishevelled appearance of the Dead suggests ordinary people who have been through trauma. The idea behind their costumes was that they should embody a sense of transition, hence they are half in a state of disintegration - ragged and torn. They give the impression of being everyday clothes but are cleverly constructed to incorporate gussets under the arms and hidden pleats in bodices to allow the freedom of movement a dancer requires. These clothes suggest the people portrayed come from the full spectrum of South American society; from city-dwellers, possibly of European origin, to naive Andeans.
One man (who dances Dolencias duet) wears a grey suit and open-neck white shirt, another (who performs the Mis Llamitas duet) grey/blue trousers, a white shirt and loose colourful tie which becomes an integral part of the choreography. (The original tie incorporated samples of all the fabrics used in the costumes for the Dead!) Three women wear dresses. The most mature is in red, the youngest (usually with loose-flowing hair) is in white, and the third is in a turquoise and brown georgette, patterned with butterflies and partly lined with turquoise to catch the light. These dresses are subtly textured, with appliqué layers around the areas of transition between solid and transparent, to enhance their ragged beauty. The woman in the red dress also has a black and white plaid shawl, worn over her head as she enters and wrapped around her shoulders as she watches the action, but which is discarded when she dances.
In Bruce’s choreography full skirts are often used to extend movement and in this production the numerous loose trailing elements in the costumes add to the feel- ing of disintegration.
The two men in trousers wear lace-up dance shoes but all the other dancers have bare feet. Originally the make-up for the Dead was stylised, emphasising their eyes. Where necessary it was used to emphasise a racial mix and some of the Dead, such as the Dolencias couple, looked notably wan. Given Bruce’s desire for his characters to be universal, the use of stylised make-up has been discontinued.
The lighting and design is by Nick Chelton who Bruce had collaborated in previous pieces.
The overall impression christopher wanted to give off was a shadowy moody place. He achieves this by having a gloomy green wash over on the backwash which also adds eeriness. However he also used lighting to highlight certain moments, for example, there is a cold blue overhead lighting focusing on the death at the end of the duets, the lighting also changes suddenly for dramatic affect when someone dies. Each opening and closing section has a side light which enhances the sculptural effect of their animalistic bodies. Another prime example of effective lighting that Chris uses would be at the very end of the piece when the three ghosts kneel and look into the wings after the villagers and the side lights shine on the ghosts which gives a dramatic effect and again, enhances their body.
It all started off when he was sent a letter by a chilean folk singer who's husband was murdered by the government. This was a subject matter he strongly sympathised with. Chris was then fortunate enough to meet the widower which exasperated his empathy towards the story as he learnt more about the dictatorship in chile.
Another factor of his inspiration was his interest in southern american culture, and particularly one primitive native ritual where the dead were cremated and made into soup which was then eaten by the tribe members, these rituals fascinated him along with the masked dances they had in Boliva. Chris Bruce went into a lot of research into these subjects and was hugely interested by the dictatorship so a big part of his choreography comes from sympathy and interest. This links to another factor as to why he made this production and that was being asked by the Chilean human rights committee to create this.
Christopher Bruce was also inspired by the music. He had listen to the music a few years back and loved it so this helped elaborate his enthusiasm towards creating the piece.
Overall this piece is about the dictatorship of chile and Bruce wanted to express his sympathy towards it by getting the audience to feel the same. He said "I want people to be moved and feel something for these people, they may not be able to do much but public opinion in the end means something and that is a way I, as an artist, can do my bit for humanity".
(Christopher Bruces main influence)
The dance styles used in Ghost Dances are Contemporary (Graham), Ballet and South American Folk Dance.
The piece itself was very dramatic, episodic, thematic and narrative, keeping with the very strong story line.
Christopher Bruce is a member of the second generation of choreographers which married classical ballet to contemporary dance, Ghost dances is a great example of this.
The beauty of Christopher Bruce is after getting a basic understanding of folk dance he managed to create his own folk steps for the piece.
The simplicity of the folk steps are developed and repeated both in the music and the choreography sometimes by solo, sometimes by several dancers or musicians in unison or in layers of contrasting material.
The repetition in Ghost Dances is a reflection of the repetitive nature of the music. They are both within individual sections and form one dance to another, giving a coherence to the whole piece.
Christoper Bruce's choreography is always noted for it's use of flexible torsos and spiraling movements which is very prominent in Ghost Dances but he also creates and amazing atmosphere with the effect of stillness, angular gestures and simple movements.
Much of his choreorgraphy moves in circles and flows throughout.
In ghost dances the weight of the body seems to hang from broken arms
A single set is used throughout Ghost Dances.
The setting in is very simple yet effective, although simple it really contributes to creating the creepy, dramatic and surreal atmosphere.
Using a skilfully painted backcloth suggesting an arid landscape with clear sky, the mouth of a cave is also present (suggesting an entry to the Underworld) which looks over a barren rocky plain to mountain peaks on the horizon.
Viewers have perceived the location in different terms. For the critic, John Percival, ‘the distinguished decor was a stony landscape like the valley of the shadow of death, where even the rocks look
like skulls or coffins’. Other viewers, perhaps basing their
impressions on simply watching the video which emphasises the green wash of light over the scene, have described it as suggesting a lake in the middle distance which could be interpreted as the Styx (the river of the ancient Greek Underworld).
On the stage are seven rock like structures at the back and
sides of the stage. These provide changes of levels for
the Ghost Dancers.
Because the setting was based on a photograph it has a surprising
realism for an essentially symbolic production.
Bruce born 1945 in Leicester, grew up in Scarborough.
He was encouraged to take part in tap and ballet. Due to being diagnosed with polio which affected Bruce’s legs
He gained a scholarship at rambert and after a few years with Walter gores London ballet joined Ballet rambert.
Rambert in 1963 was still a classical company so Bruce was performing solos
The company’s reformation was in in 1965 was it to become a much more creative company.
In 66 Bruce emerged as the leading dancer and people would describe him as the “Nureyev of modern ballet”
After a few years Bruce was one of the leading choreographers he was the last one to be nurtured by Marie rambert the company founder. We can trace influences back to diagalev and ballet russe and George Balanchine.
As a dancer he was recognised as an artist of intense dramatic power which is well remembered for his impressive interpretations.
As a choreographer he was stimulated by the variety and experimentation of ballet rambert I the 60’s
Bruce prefers to build up a relationship with his dancers and return work. He would choreograph with them on a regular basis
As a choreographer he has shown awareness, idealism and sensitivity rare in dance. In most of his work’s he directly concerned with social, political and ecological issues.
Bruce’s serious works had have their lighter aspects with most works having underlying emotional content. With many open to a range of interpretations such as ghost dances.
His personal range of stimuli is extensive with a wide range of music and literature.
The dead are five women and three men who through the work experience contrasting forms of death.
The dead enter as a group from stage left soon after the music begins. They all stay on stage for the entire work and then leave together downstage right at the end.
The precise relationship between characters is open to individual interpretation. There is a clear sense that they form a community.
They show a variety of social backgrounds.
Bruce described they as there “own way to heaven or hell” wandering “from life to death”
He often would create works and then without music or music he would add in after they had been choreographed.
He repeatedly used scores by George Crumb, recently he has used Igor Stravinsky and collaborated with composer Philip Chambon.
He also has turned to use popular music such as rolling stones when choreographing rooster.
Bruce has performed and choreographed for TV. He was the subject of a BBC documentary called “voices of children” (1978) which included George crumbs music, ancient voices of music.
All of Bruce’s well known works have been televised these are; Cruel garden, Ghost dances, Sergeant Early’s dream, intimate Pages, The dream is over and swansong.
Bruce’s latest and most well-known choreography is rooster which is performed to the rolling stones.
The music Bruce used was the haunting and ebullient music of the Chilean folk group inti-illimani which he was introduced in 1979.
For every performance Bruce decided that the music should accompany the dances by being performed live.
As the music was only available as a recording it had to be transcribed by ballet ramberts music director Nicholas mojsiejenko (known as Nicholas Carr)
He heard it on a mono cassette player making it almost impossible to identify each individual instrument.
He also acquired the knowledge of all the traditional Amerindian instruments played on the altiplano.
He received all the instruments from contact he knew in Paris and cologne and the musicians of the mercury ensemble.
The musicians had to learn to play the instruments and then sing in Spanish.
Bombo – A drum traditionally made with llama skin stretched over the hollow of a tree. Used in northern Chile. Creates a deep booming sound
Charango – A small guitar or a primitive lute, its sound box is traditionally an armadillos shell. It’s a rare hybrid instrument blending pre- Columbian South American musical instrument prototypes with the tuning principles of the European lute imported by the sixteenth century conquistadors.
Guitarrone- A basic large Mexican Guitar
Quena - an end of an Indian flute made frim bone, wood or bamboo. With a simple U- shaped mouth piece to create a simple breathy sound.
Sikus- Panpipes with double row bamboo pipes. Typically played by the native people of the Altiplano. To have a full scale of the instrument you two sets to be played by two different musicians.
Tiple – A steel strung guitar with twelve stings tuned to four notes. Originating from Columbia.
Ghost dances has a cruel relentless quality about it and Christopher Bruce uses his entrances and exits in such a way that creates the effect of an underworld with what for the villagers probably should have been heaven but the Ghosts have quite literally dragged them to hell.
In my opinion Ghost Dances created by Christopher Bruce is really quite fascinating, Having studied it for GCSE and currently I could watch the piece countless times and still find something different I like or a piece of movement i had not noticed before. The subject of the dance is very prominent and stays strong throughout, I think this is because of the specific use of the folk dance, strong characteristic movements for both groups of people. I do also think that dancers should get a lot of credit for their efforts and they all contributed to helping tell the story and pay their respect to the chilean people. Christopher Bruce touched the problem going on in Chile so appropriately in his own way that was so powerful that you feel the emotion people would have been feeling in Chile and gives you a real chance to empathize. In contrast the dancers playing the Ghost really represent the fear and the control the Chilean people were under.
Three designers, Christopher Bruce, Belinda Scarlett and Nick Chelton, were involved in creating the visual aspects of Ghost Dances. Christopher Bruce originally invited Pamela Marre to design the complete work but she was unable to undertake the production. Bruce himself undertook the setting, asking the set designer John Campbell to base it on a photograph of an Andean view. When Ghost Dances was revived for Rambert in 1999 he asked Campbell to repeat the same image in a slightly less realistic manner.
Bruce asked Belinda Scarlett to design the costumes. He had met Scarlett when she had made costumes for several of his works including Night with the Waning Moon (1979) and Preludes and Song (1980) to Pamela Marre’s designs and then, earlier in 1981, she designed
the costumes for Cliff Keuter’s Figures of Wind andRoom to Dance.