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Swansong by Christopher Bruce
Transcript of Swansong by Christopher Bruce
Works and Styles
The First Solo
This is the section of the piece that I have chosen to use as my stimulus for my own choreography.
Why did I choose Swansong?
I used Swansong for the stimulus of my choreography because I find the topic of human rights very interesting. I wanted to do a contemporary dance as I had no experience of the contemporary technique before starting this course, and have never had the opportunity to choreograph a contemporary piece prior to this assignment. and I really enjoyed experiencing something new. I chose this section of the dance in particular because it's a very emotional solo, and with emotion comes performance skills and facial expression which is a weakness of mine and an area I feel that I really need to be challenged in. Researching into this dance taught me that choreography isn't just putting movement to music and that every element of the dance has a meaning and requires thorough research and this will definitely help me with the Choreographic Principles unit this year.
Choreographer & Professional Dancer
Christopher Bruce was introduced to dance by his father as a means of strengthening his legs that had once been damaged due to polio. After training in contemporary, ballet, acrobatics and tap, he joined the Ballet Rambert Dance School when he was just 13 years of age, and 8 years later, he became the schools leading dancer. In 1994, he became artistic director of Ballet Rambert and within 8 years the company had performed a repertoire of over 50 works. In addition to Rambert, Christopher Bruce has also been associated with Nederlands Dans Theater, The Royal Danish Ballet, Cullberg Ballet and The English National Ballet, just to name a few.
Swansong was first premiered in November 1987 by London Festival Ballet and had a total running time of 32 minutes.
Stimulus & Themes
The overall theme for this dance is human rights and isolation, although each section tells a different part of the story. Christopher Bruce had been inspired by several different topics and issues for this piece, the most influential being the work of Amnesty International, an organisation set up to campaign and stand up for humanity and human rights.
Movements and Motifs
There are several arm gesture motifs in this section of the piece which appear to be influenced by bird movement. This could be linked to the title but it could also represent him attempting to fly up towards the shaft of light. There are also several movements such as deep plies, jumps, arabesques and attitudes which really test the dancer's balance. The sense of struggle to maintain the position illustrates the struggle the dancer's facing towards his isolation. There are two times during the solo where the dancer curls up into a defensive ball on the floor, which demonstrates his tortured, twisted soul.
Lighting and Set
The set stays the same throughout the entire piece with just one chair in the middle of the proscenium stage with a black backdrop. This creates an atmosphere of a dark, claustrophobic prison cell. This solo begins with a single spotlight on the prisoner while he's sat on the chair but as he stands up the only obvious lighting is the shaft of light coming down from stage left which the victim dances towards.
This section of the dance was actually choreographed to no sound; the sounds you hear were added in after and have no direct link to any of the movements in particular. The sounds are very eerie chiming noises, with some bird squawks. There are several movements throughout the solo whereby the victim makes sounds with his body, the floor and the chair. The section begins with a loud crash which represents the slamming of the prison door.
Characters and Costume
This dance is made of 3 characters; 2 interrogators/prison guards and one victim/prisoner. Throughout the piece the costume remains the same and these costumes reflect the character profiles enormously. The 2 guards wear identical uniforms, in a khaki or beige colour and the prisoner wears a plain red top and jeans.
His reason for deciding to choreograph a dance in the first place was for him to portray the act of saying goodbye as he progressed from being a performer to being a full-time choreographer.
The definition of 'swansong' in the dictionary is "a farewell or final appearance, action or work".
The piece has been and can be performed by both males and females, however in the full-length DVD, it is an all-male cast.
Structure of the Piece
The piece is made up of a total of seven sections and each section tells a different part of the story;
Question and Answer
Tea for Two
The First Solo
The Slow Trio
The Second Solo
The Cane Dance
The Third and Final Solo
A proscenium stage is the bare stage in front of the curtain.
The prisoner is on stage throughout the entire piece, which shows that he has no way of escaping and becoming free. He also performs all three of the solos which suggests that he has no one to talk to and confide in so he's forced to go through the experience alone. The colour red represents danger and fear and jeans restrict movements and show a lack of freedom so I think that the choice of costume for this character effectively communicates the theme.
The interrogators do everything together throughout the dance, which shows that they have control and are superior to the prisoner. During the piece, the dancers always enter and exit from the same direction, stage right, which suggests that there is a door, presumably a prison door.
"Question and Answer" section
In this section, the characters use tap dance to communicate to one another. It represents being questioned in court.
"Tea for Two" section
"The Slow Trio" section
"The Second Solo" section
"The Cane Dance" section
"The Third and Final Solo" section
This section shows the victims anger, freedom and sheer desperation for freedom. The softness of the movement and the music really contrast with the torture of the previous sections.
How well do you know Swansong?
Structure and Choreographic Devices
Use of Space
Although the genre of the dance is predominantly contemporary, there are several other genres featured:
This section of the piece is performed on a very linear, diagonal pathway as the victim dances to and from the shaft of light, and he only dances on the left side of the chair, between the chair and the shaft of light, never on the right side.
Shaft of Light
The shaft of light that the prisoner keeps referring to represents his freedom. In a more literal view, it indicates a window in his prison cell, and escaping through the window is his only chance of freedom, however, the fact that it comes from such a high level shows that it's too difficult to reach.
The main prop throughout the piece is a chair, which doesn't leave the stage throughout the whole performance. It's not only used as a chair, but also as a weapon and a shield. The others props are made up of a cigarette and lighter, a red clown nose and canes, which are all used by the interrogators as methods of intimidating the victim.
This image shows the canes and the use of the chair as a shield.
This section of the piece has no rhythmic pattern as it was choreographed to no sound and there are no specific counts. There is a lot of repetition within this section, he often replicates whole sections of movement, often floor work.
Throughout the solo, the movements show a sudden change in dynamics, from very fast sequences of movements, sharply into a still position or a slow, more reserved movement, which suggests to me a form of schizophrenia that the victim may be feeling; the fast, sharp movements representing an adrenaline rush of desperation whereas the slower movements show a sense of giving up.
The majority of Christopher Bruce's works use a political, controversial topic as their stimuli, although they are usually open to interpretation. He almost always combines contemporary dance with classical ballet, however often setting them to irrelevant, popular music by artists such as The Rolling Stones, John Lennon and Bob Dylan. When he began his career as a choreographer, he was enormously influenced by other choreographers Glen Tetley and Norman Morrice who all use the similar technique of mixing a knowledge of academic and contemporary techniques.
His most popular works include Rooster (1991), Ghost Dances (1981), Cruel Garden (1977) and Land (1984).
Throughout the solo, the prisoner does several arabesques. It is a very pulled up movement which means that he is closer to the light and the release of the chest changes his weight placement, meaning that he is very close to falling forwards, even closer to the light. This suggests that he's tempted to leave the security of his prison cell and risk getting caught for the unlikely chance of freedom.
This motif is performed numerous times, at different levels, in different directions and in different positions. It is the first movement of the piece and it shows how desperate he is for help.
(Crossword) - 1=Christopher, 2=human rights, 3=two, 4=prisoner, 5=ghost, 6=contemporary, 7=amnesty, 8=freedom, 9=seven, 10=Rambert, 11=three, 12=red
This section begins with the two guards dancing together performing a comical tango duet while the prisoner is sat on the chair. The prisoner then gets drawn in and they perform a trio, with the interrogators humiliating the prisoner.
This section is all about torturing the prisoner. It consists of repeatedly moving the chair out of his reach whilst he's struggling, and pushing and pulling him around the stage. To finish, the prisoner is held upside down over the chair which portrays him being held underwater.
In this section, the prisoner uses the chair in several different ways; he carries it on his back as if he is holding up a heavy weight and he also holds it in front of his face as though he's looking through prison bars. This is the section where he starts to make a decision about where to stay; on the chair (security) or go to the window (freedom).
This section shows the victim watching the guards perform a soft-shoe duet with the use of canes. The canes then become weapons used to threaten the victim, who uses the chair as a shield.
The interrogators remain on stage during this solo, although they endure a motionless position throughout. This section has a more optimistic feel about it as it shows the spirit of the, now deceased, victim escaping into the shaft of light and finally finding his freedom.
The dancer often reaches towards the light, signifying the importance of the imagery of this light and how is represents his freedom and only chance of escape.