DanceXchange, Mark Bruce Company-Macbeth

April 9, 2018

Written by Memoonah Hussain

 

DanceXchange Present Macbeth? More like WalkXchange confuse Macbeth?

Upon hearing DanceXchange Present Macbeth, I was consumed with fascination about how dance would be used to convey such as a dark and tragic Shakespearian story. My introduction to dance conveying stories stemmed from watching Matthew Bourne’s Edwards Scissorhands. I had never watched anything of this kind before but the power and beauty of dance in portraying and conveying the emotions and story still strikes me three years on. The clean lines, perfect time, costumes, facial expression, dance moves, music, props, just everything was magnificent and heart-stopping.

So, I obviously had very high expectations for Mark Bruce’s portrayal of Macbeth which sold itself as a dance theatre production that realises “a beautifully harrowing vision of an internal wasteland formed from a pursuit of power through ruthless means”. But boy was this far from the truth. It was more like a ‘restricted, weird, ugly, unharrowing eyesore of an external wasteland formed by a limited number of dance moves’. Bruce actively disagreed with me when I asked him why the number of dance moves was limited but if you repeat around ten dance moves in every dance, as far as I am aware, that entails a limited number of dance moves.

The dance organisation calls itself ‘DanceXchange’ but ‘WalkXchange’ would be much better suited. More than three quarters of the entire ‘dance’ was spent walking. When the crown was placed on Macbeth’s head, the routine was walked. When the two guards outside of the King’s bedroom were drugged, that was walked. When Lady Macbeth considering killing the King after drugging the guards, it was walked. I had the opportunity to ask Bruce why he chose not to have his dancers dance in these moments as they had such great potential to be portrayed through dance. He replied saying that he wanted to be economical in how much dance he used. He said that many performances overuse dance and overperform, so he wanted to be more sparing in his use of dance. However, on one hand you have Emirates’ economy class which includes somewhat spacious seats, access to movies and TV and food and on the other you have EasyJet which provides you with nothing other than cramped seats. This production was much more EasyJet than Emirates. I have no problem with being economical but there is something called being too economical and spending much of the time walking around the stage when you’re called ‘DanceXchange’ certainly calls Bruce’s concept of being economical into question.

 

 

In terms of the actual choreography and dancing itself, it was very disappointing. During the first ‘fight’ scene, the men were leaping and twirling around. It looked more like a child pretending to be a fairy then a sword fight. We were also treated to a dance number with the three witches who, like all of the female dancers, wore very tight skirts that drastically limited the range of movement in their legs. I was reminded of a school dance showcase rather than a professional dance because of the timing issues. I feel that the tight skirts may have contributed to this as the majority of the hand and arm lines were clean.

There were also random dances between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth which contained the same leaps and twirls as the fight scene. My assumption was that these dances were supposed to be sensual but what with these two main characters spending a lot of time staring down the audience, it was more weird than sensual. There were also a number of scenes without context. For example, there is a scene of Macbeth dancing while there are people dining behind him and there were intense crescendos of a violin. No reason was given for as to why this was including. It did not add to the story, it merely made it much more confusing.

 

For some, the outfit choices may have seemed brave for modern clothing was used, but they left me feeling confused. The men were dressed in what seemed like very poor-quality suits while the three witches weren’t even dressed as witched. They had tight fake leather skirts, chockers, and leather buckled ankle boots. Coupled with an inadequate attempt at anti-dancing, the witches looked like three drunk girls on a night out at a club.

The performance did contain the cliché blood, thunder claps and lightning, and screams. During the second half, there is another repetitive weird dance between Macbeth and his wife. During the dance, Macbeth leaves before returning with blood covering his hands and he is holding knives. Having studied Macbeth previously, it made sense to assume he killed the King but as it wasn’t shown, those unfamiliar with the play wouldn’t have known. Lady Macbeth soon leaves before returning with blood on her hands. This occurs to the backdrop of some very weird music. It may have been Bruce’s attempt to show the characters “goaded by the whispers of demons” but it was strikingly similar to the eerie Church music in The Da Vinci Code but by layering weird sounds like those of a groan tube, consequently it make the whole affair even weirder. Bruce did say that he the music was used to show redemption, but I do believe he said that because he was feed that when questioned by an audience member.

Again, due to Bruce’s wish to be economical, there was no dancing to show the anguish and horror at the King’s murder. The scene purely consisted of the Queen screaming, the other performers walking up to the King or to the other side of the stage before Macbeth walks up to the two guards drugged by Lady Macbeth and brutally stabs them. Amazingly, Bruce inserts a dance to a scene of his own creation immediately after Queen places flowers by her dead husband. The Queen walks forward with her out to the sides and her arms drooping down, perhaps in attempt to mimic the image of Jesus on the cross. She then dances to the creepy Church music. Again, there is more staring at the audience as her facial expression is devoid of any emotion. Given the lacklustre dancing and her emotionless face, the dancer looked like a rag doll which a child is manipulating to make her dance.

The group dances again utilised the same dance moves and if you weren’t already bored, you were definitely by the penultimate group dance. The first group dance of each series of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ has more oomph, passion, emotion, and skill than what I saw (or didn’t see) in this production.

This production contained even more bizarre things such as tattoos, creepy silver babies, Pennywise masks, and a rotting baby bought out by a woman covering in filth and grey. Not only was Lady Macbeth’s demise orchestrated poorly through tattoos shown on her body, her scratching the blood of her hands before a split-second dance choreography before she resorts to search for God knows what on the stage, shake, cry, streaking blood down her face and smearing it across her lips. She then dances to some jolly music where it is not the dance which portrays her demise but her facial expression of psychoticness before a man joins her who is revealed to be Macbeth after he removes his mask. Lady Macbeth then dies but the reason behind that is not terribly clear for although she does begin to strangle herself, Macbeth quickly removes her hand from her neck, but she still dies.

Regarding Macbeth’s death, the Queen stabs him twice with a spear before the rest of the cast join in, they too using spears. There were no entry or exit wounds nor is any of Macbeth’s blood split. The stage does dark, there is an extended pause as the audience is unsure as to whether this disaster has finished before eventually applauding the fact they have survived this train wreck.

Why this production was performed at The Hippodrome, I have no clue. By associating it with the prestige of The Hippodrome, you would expect it to be at an elite standard, not mediocre. Yes, there were some beautifully orchestrated moments where, for example, Lady Macbeth stroked the crown of the Queen before her face, but the overall performance detracts from these intricate moments. You should be able to understand what happens in the performance without knowing anything about it. Those who were not well-versed on Macbeth would have absolutely no idea what was going on. Had Matthew Bourne headed this production, it would have been breathtakingly phenomenal, and I really hope he decides to showcase Macbeth in dance to show us how it really should be done.

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Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella

February 13, 2018

Written by Abi Pilkington

 As the war sirens engulf the room with the clever use of surround sound, it is clear that this version of Cinderella is not the fairy-tale we are all accustomed to. Matthew Bourne’s interpretation of this classic as a World War II love story works surprisingly well. Bourne stays true to many elements of the fairy-tale, such as the poor treatment of Cinderella by her evil stepmother and sisters, the lavish ball and of course, the lost shoe; however, he adds and alters so much more.

 Bourne taints the elements of the story that are usually depicted as pure and good, dimming them somewhat with darkness. For example, the Prince is an injured RAF pilot, seemingly traumatised from the war, the fairy god-mother figure is an ambiguous phantom-like character who seems to have both good and evil qualities, and the notorious ball is set in the Café de Paris- a venue that hosted and still hosts a range of performers, but during the Second World War was bombed causing a number of fatalities. This intriguing mix of good and evil is a fitting reflection of the war. The prince-like character as an RAF pilot highlights the glorification of fighting for your country. Yet, this status came with a price- leaving many survivors traumatised, shell-shocked and injured. Still, this glorification is present throughout the entire performance, including the other male characters dressed in uniform, as all the women in the piece clearly want their attention. However, this idealistic image of a war hero is shattered when you consider the brutal and murderous nature of war. This conflict in honouring the men who went to war and showing the reality of it is depicted in Wilfred Owen’s poetry. Although Owen was a soldier in the First World War, the messages he conveys are still extremely relevant, particularly the preface we wrote to his poetry anthology:

‘This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.

Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War.

Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.

My subject is War, and the pity of War.’

Furthermore, this dark undertone is evident in the costumes they use. Every costume we see is a shade of grey- even the extravagant ball gowns- depicting the bleak reality of the war that is constantly hanging over each character’s head. The evil stepmother, however, is very clearly always seen in black. This immediately reflects her dark qualities and makes her stand out from the others, often helping her to steal the attention of the scene as her character so clearly loved to do. In addition to this, the fairy godmother and Cinderella both wear white costumes- the fairy-godmother throughout, and Cinderella at the ball. This may be to show the ‘good’ characters, however, the fairy godmother seems both good and evil, particularly when playing the doctor character, or when hovering over the ball seemingly causing the explosion. Therefore, the white may instead be used to show what is supernatural, perhaps Cinderella never did attend the ball or really have a fairy godmother.

This dark and grey aesthetic is also reflected in the well-thought-out stage design. However, moments of intense colour such as the hellish bombed scene that act II began with, stood out against the mundane costumes and background colours. The set transported the audience to so many realistic and magical places. The London underground stood out for me as it captured exactly what it feels like. The surround sound of a tube arriving successfully added to this. The lighting and music also aided the overall atmosphere of the performance. Moments of intense colour from the lights depicted the time of day, the weather and much more, whilst the music added to the suspense of each scene.

Furthermore, it seems Bourne was inspired by the music for Cinderella, as the time period in which Sergei Prokofiev was writing it was during World War II, hence the setting of this ballet. The anxiety of this time period is mimicked in both the tense, dramatic music that leaves the audience in constant suspense, and the constant threat of a bomb, foreshadowed by the sirens and films they play throughout on ‘how to be safe’ in the event of an air raid. When eventually an explosion does go off it separates the two lovers, a twist that allows the story to be grounded in reality, instead of the spell wearing off at midnight like in the original. However, when the fairy-godmother character then comes on and seemingly reverses time and allows Cinderella to attend the ball, the story becomes increasingly more magical and supernatural, especially when Cinderella eventually arrives in her spectacular dress.

Although the ball that follows in one of impressive dancing and vibrant set design, it seems to go on for slightly too long and confuses the storyline when Cinderella seems to leave the prince before going back to him. Despite this, there were moments that were flawlessly executed. For example, when one-by-one the males attending the ball all began to dance with Cinderella, forming an almost ‘conga line’ sequence. The canon and different levels used in this section of the dance looked beautiful on stage and framed Cinderella’s transformation into a blonde ball-gowned beauty perfectly.

However, the scene that followed was by far my favourite:

We are met by the prince walking on stage where Cinderella sleeps in a bed. They are both in their 1940’s style underwear which immediately creates a vulnerability to the scene. As Cinderella wakes up the lighting starts to brighten slightly to a beautiful orange colour, creating the feel of a sunrise, or perhaps a fiery reflection of London burning outside. Cinderella and the prince then begin to perform a stunningly intimate dance, full of lifts and other dynamic movements that capture all the magic and romance that is expected in a performance of this classic fairy-tale.

Overall Bourne’s stylistic interpretation of Cinderella was something completely unexpected. Although moments of it left me confused and questioning certain plot holes, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this stunning piece of art take over the hippodrome stage.