The Times

Sea of Bones
Allen Robertson

The Place, WC1

The Mark Bruce Company, Sea of Bones

One of the buzz-name artists during the 1990s, Mark Bruce took a five-year break from dance-making in 2000. Now, after a couple of years regrouping, he has re-emerged with Sea of Bones. His 90-minute show, which had its premiere in September at the Merlin Theatre in Frome, Somerset, where he is based, is touring the UK until November.

Bruce’s rural retreat has obviously done him good. Sea of Bones is the most passionate, grown-up choreography he has yet produced. Performed by seven dancers, this two-act extravaganza is nothing if not ambitious. Bloodthirsty Druids, along with a variety of demons and heroes from Greek myth, are shunted into a postmodern amalgam of hard-rock desperation and strident anarchy. The result is an episodic rollercoaster.

The dancers, some daubed with woad, don an array of costumes, from cowgirl hats and denim mini-skirts to little black dresses. There’s a coven of harpies who tote severed heads like gruesome trophies; a creature in a ram’s head mask; a serpent with gilded scales. Desperate to tell stories that don’t always come across, the dancers perform with a power that approaches the apocalyptic.

The raucous soundtrack veers from Tom Waits, Nick Cave and PJ Harvey to racing harpsichord sonatas by Scarlatti. Some of the lyrics, such as the Bad Seeds’ The Lyre of Orpheus and Harvey’s The Desperate Kingdom of Love, intersect with the movement more cleanly than others.

The show’s most lyric moment is a meltingly beautiful duet for lamenting lovers. Halfway through it they are joined by an echoing second couple dressed in military khakis. These wartime sweethearts, doomed to part, hover in the background like mourning ghosts.

The always impressive Joanne Fong, who opens the evening with a ferocious solo, is a long-time superstar on the independent dance scene. Elizabeth Mischler, a statuesque redhead, is also a standout. An equal star of this production is the lighting designer Guy Hoare. The darkling, smoke-dense realm he creates adds an appropriate atmosphere to Bruce’s bleak, belligerent universe.

Even though Sea of Bones doesn’t actually hang together, the moment-to-moment power of its vignettes packs a visceral punch. It provided a fervid finale to the Place’s five-week season, Spring Loaded, intended to celebrate, as its tagline claimed, "where dance is going next".


May 22, 2007

© - Allen Robertson May 2007

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