Christopher Bruce uses the aural setting in a clever way to challenge and engage the audience, as it often supports the choreographic intention of the work. In Rooster (1994) the music by the Rolling Stones is a key starting point, and it is used to support the subject matter of the swinging 60’s through the upbeat, popular songs and entitlement and male ego through the lyrics. In Ghost Dances (1981), Bruce uses traditional folk music from a Chilean Folk band called Inti-Illimani to set the place of the work, as well as the use of silence and found sound to intimidate the audience and evoke tension. He also does this in Swansong (1995), breaking through silence with tap dance to portray an interrogation. But what he does differently in this work is use an electronic pop score by Philip Chambon to support humour and mockery, whilst also entertaining the popular style of music in the 90s to entertain and engage his audience.
The aural setting in Rooster is used to support the themes of the work, such as entitlement and male ego, which were common traits in the 1960s. The songs used by the 1960’s pop-rock band, The Rolling Stones, echo these traits and Bruce uses direct correlation and music visualisation with the movement to portray these characteristics within his dancers. For example, in section 1, Little Red Rooster, the male soloists pace and dynamics correlate to the lazy feel of the music, as the music builds slowly with a repetitive low-pitch guitar melody, which is accentuated by higher pitched riffs with the electric slide and a soft, even-paced beat. He holds his arms in front of his chest, elbows bent and wrists relaxed, as he steps forward and drags his back leg behind him. At the same time, he pecks his head forward in time with the beat, creating an image of a pecking rooster. The smooth and even pace of the movement correlates to the lazy feel of the music, a nod towards the perception of the youth of the 60’s who were considered to be dreamers, entitled to the world without a hard days work. This is further highlighted in the lyrics “I am the little red rooster, too lazy to crow for a day”. Although relaxed, the dancer moves smoothly with control and confidence, reflecting the cocky and confident nature of the animal, whilst also reflecting the typical male attitude in the 60’s. Overall, the aural setting allows the dancer to fully embody the cocky, entitled character to support the themes of male ego.
In Rooster, Bruce uses the aural setting to set a scene, create an atmosphere, and support the choreographic intention. This can be seen in section 3, Not Fade Away. The music is upbeat, rhythmical and repetitive using an acoustic guitar, drums and tambourine. It starts with the dancers clapping along to the acoustic melody and dispersing around a couple, which sets a playful social scene. Furthermore, a high pitched harmonica creates swirling accented melodies on top of the other instruments, which is done with a Bo Diddley beat, a style of music which was popular in clubs in the 1960s. The two dancers correlate to the upbeat, fast, repetitive rhythms in direct correlation through the use of lindy hop and jive dance styles, where they hold hands and perform triple steps and frenzied kicks in an energetic but relaxed and free dynamic in time to the beat. Together, the music and the movement reflects the playful, youthful characteristics of the 1960’s. In addition, the lyrics further support the attitudes of the youth of the 60’s: “I’m gonna tell you how it’s gonna be, you’re gonna give your love to me, I’m gonna love you night and day.” The lyrics are a demand, where the male dancer is cocky and presumes he is in power, supported by the high energy leaps and preening gestures as the female swoons forward and watches him in awe. There are also some flirty connotations, further highlighting the social scene and creating a playful, youthful atmosphere. Overall, Bruce uses both the aural accompaniment and the lyrics to fully support the mood and themes of the section.
Bruce has a keen interest in socio-political matters which also extends to his choice of and use of aural accompaniment. One of the starting points of Ghost Dances was the music by Chilean folk band, Inti-Illimani. The band were touring in Europe when Chile’s government was overthrown by Augustus Pinochet, which began a 17 year dictatorship. During the Pinochet regime traditional instruments like the charango and quena were banned, which the band used, and therefore they decided to stay in Europe and use their position to raise awareness of what was happening. In section 6, Sicuriadas, Bruce chose a traditional dance tune played on the sikus which repeats, gradually getting faster, alongside percussion instruments. The dancers correlate to this by repeating key motifs in accumulation, getting faster with the music. They perform traditional folk movements such as skipping, holding hands, and intricate stepping patterns combined with heavy lunges and defiant stances to represent their defiance and community spirit. The music supports the theme of the section not only through mood and correlation, but through a socio-political connection.
Furthermore, Bruce uses the aural setting to introduce the Ghosts and create a tense, intimidating atmosphere so that the audience can experience the fear and intimidation the people of Chile felt under the Pinochet Regime. The work starts in absolute silence and introduces a loud, singular dripping sound at regular intervals. Alongside the dimly lit stage, with rocks placed at the back and a dark painted backdrop which depicts a mountainous terrain high above the stage, the dripping sound supports the idea of the Ghosts being inside the mouth of a dark cave. This instantly creates a tense atmosphere and creates the idea that the Ghosts are predatory and animalistic. As the Ghosts appear, the found sound of their movements against the floor can be heard, particularly when the Ghosts perform complementary animalistic motifs which include sliding, shifting, crawling and jumping around the stage. At one point a duet forms as one dancer holds another dancers legs as he supports himself with his arms in a handstand. They stop and look up towards the audience, alongside the third dancer who has crouched on the floor beside them. The silence makes the audience focus on the Ghosts intently, which means that as soon as they stop still and stare at the audience, a sense of fear and intimidation is evoked. In this section, Bruce’s use of aural setting clearly helps to portray the subject matter of the work as well as engage the audiences attention, challenging their emotions so that they can relate to or empathise with the people of Chile.
Bruce uses silence and found sound in other works too. In Swansong the aural setting, or lack of, is used to create a tense atmosphere to support the themes of interrogation and fear. At one moment the prisoner is centre stage, sat on a wooden chair facing the audience with his feet parallel, hands on his knees. There is silence before the 2 guards surrounding the prisoner start performing a repetitive cramp roll, tapping through the toe to heel, shifting their weight side to side, suggesting that they are asking repetitive questions. Each time they repeat the cramp roll they get slightly faster whilst maintaining a sense of control through unison, taunting the prisoner and creating a tense atmosphere for the audience as they wonder what is going to happen. Suddenly the prisoner bursts out of his chair, circling his arms frantically, performing rapid tap sequences with shuffle and wing movements. The tapping is erratic, and appears to be a confession due to the uncontrolled outburst and loud tapping sounds without a clear rhythm. The guard puts a hand on his shoulder and pushes him back into his chair, and all we can hear is his heavily, loud breathing. The use of aural setting in this section clearly portrays the idea of interrogation by using the sounds of tap dance to suggest a conversation in an unique way. The use of silence means that the section can build tension and engage the audience by focusing their attention on the victims reaction, causing them to feel the victims tension and fear.
Interestingly, other sections of Swansong, such as Tea for Two, are accompanied by an electronic pop score composed by Philip Chambon which is used to create a mood and support the uneasy humour used in the section. The guards decide to change tactics with the prisoner, becoming lighter and more friendly which is supported by the tango style rhythm and Latin inspired melody. The electronic effects distort the melody, lulling the prisoner in to follow their lead, but which suggests that the light-heartedness of the section is a lie. Furthermore, there are rhythmic ‘ch-p-cha’ sounds which are whispered whilst the guards perform an awkward, angular tango sequence. These sounds were intended to be both comical and menacing, as the echo makes them feel like someone is whispering behind the victims ear, or maybe that the guards are whispering their plans to each other as they put on a front for the prisoner. Together, there is a juxtaposition of vaudeville comedy and an uneasy tension, which the aural accompaniment fully supports.
Overall, Christopher Bruce has a clever understanding of how to use the aural accompaniment to support the themes of his works as well as engage, entertain and challenge the audience. His unrestricted choice in music allows for him to choose composers who can support and enhance the subject matter of his works beyond the stage, for example through the use of Chilean folk band Inti-Illimani in Ghost Dances and 1960’s hits from The Rolling Stones in Rooster. The choice and use of music to support his socio-political themes and personal nostalgia present in Rooster, Ghost Dances and Swansong is one key reason why his works have stood the test of time.
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