Christopher Bruce, born 1945, is an English choreographer and performer. He started dance tap dancing and ballet training at the age of eleven. After studying at Rambert school, in 1963 Bruce became the leading male performer of the Rambert Ballet. He was the resident and associate choreographer for many dance companies including Rambert Ballet, Houston Ballet and the London Festival Ballet.Although Bruce received classical ballet training he was also greatly influenced by the Picasso of Dance’, Martha Graham. This is the reason for his more earthly’ and contemporary style of choreography.
My work was underpinned by tradition and solid classical and modern dance training he explains. One of Bruce’s iconic pieces is called Ghost Dances, created in 1981. Ghost Dances was based on the political oppression of Chile. The political oppression of Chile refers to the series of human rights violations that occurred in Chile under the dictatorship of president and commander in chief, Augusto Pinochet. Bruce found his inspiration for the piece in a letter he received from a human rights activist at the time, Joan Jara.
Jara’s husband, Victor, was a Chilean theatre director, poet and singer who was tortured and killed during the Pinochet coup d’etat. The number uses traditional Spanish music as well as the day of the dead images (the dead skeletons) to create a reference to the thousands killed in South America during this time. The ghost dancers are about celebrating the dead and I combined that idea with the image of Indian tribes who would grind the bones of the dead after the funeral pyre is out and make a soup from the remains. When the soup is drunk, in a sense, the dead live on in the living. I loved this idea of a cycle of nature. I am not religious in any sense, but I do believe we are all part and parcel of nature. That gives me great consolation.Christopher Bruce did not visit Chile, however, he did extensively research the matter to develop ideas. He combined primitive thoughts with more recently occurred history. Bruce says he intentionally gave the dance a naive style to enable it to be more effective. He choreography is very repetitive and makes use of canons’. There are two groups of characters in the dance. There are the ghosts, who may symbolise the military and the president, and there are the plebians who represent the ordinary people of Chile.The ghosts or skeletons are like spirits that transport people between life and death. They are dressed in intimidating head masks and skirts’ that do not cover much. The rest of their body is naked, covered only by black and white bodypaint to create the skeletal effect. The ordinary citizens are divided into classes and we can see this by the clothes they wear. The dances that are portraying the upper class wear new dresses and suits with neat and slick hair whereas the lower class wear old worn and torn and t-shirts and pants that do not fit and have holes and tears. All of the dancers wear traditional Chilean clothing. In the beginning, there is no music. In the silence, there is a faint dripping sound. This may represent blood dripping to show the bloodshed during the political oppression. The music is traditional Chilean/Spanish folk music. It had crescendo’s and decrescendo’s throughout the dance and the tempo too changes frequently. The music builds up tensions before death as if it is trying to warn us and become silent once the person/s dancing dies. It features wind instruments and goes back to the original song, speed and volume at the end of the dance when the ghosts are dancing. The lighting stays fairly similar throughout the whole performance except for the ending when all of the people are dead and are about to exit the stage. There is a bright light that lights up their bodies and it seems as though they are attracted to the light. The light may symbolise the ‘whiteness’ that you are said to see before going to heaven. After the ghosts have completed their final dance and are progressing towards the back of the stage, the stage fades into darkness. At the beginning of the number just the three ghosts are dancing. The choreography included many repetitive movements and canons. The style is similar to that of Martha Graham and has a very earthy feeling to it. The ghosts dance to look threatening and they accomplish this by dancing in unison and moving quickly and sharply. Their dancing is very off balanced and angular. The dead people have very different movements to the ghosts. Their dances include traditional Chilean movements. They are more graceful and move freely. It has a very balletic feel to it with open chested positions and impressive footwork.All of the choreography is very repetitive and in sync. It makes use of contract and release techniques and dancers often have arched backs. After each duet that is performed, the dancers are approached by the skeletons which bring death upon them. Once they’ve been killed they progress to the back of the stage where they stay for the remainder of the dance until their next sequence. Towards the end, before they walk into the light, more people join the dead on stage including children which sends a message that what is happening in Chili impacts everyone.