Award-winning choreographer Mark Bruce’s aim as an artist is to tap into the subconscious, our hearts; transcend our everyday lives and hopefully stumble upon some truth along the way.
Here he introduces his new invaluable new artists guide On Choreography and Making Dance Theatre, describing the essential ingredients that form the foundation for his Dance Productions.
A choreographer is an artist whose means of expression is movement. Whether to touch a viewer emotionally, challenge, entertain, tell a story, a concept – whatever they want; a professional choreographer should have the skill to open a viewer’s subconscious and communicate using movement as their primary tool. But to be a choreographer you can’t just be good at creating movement and putting it together. There are many other skills and knowledge one needs to produce a piece of work. If I was to describe the basic foundation or ingredients of my version of dance theatre I would state: Movement, drama, sound and vision. You can spend your whole life studying just one of these crafts. A choreographer has to study all of them to the best of their ability and learn how to combine them.
Leonard Cohen wrote of ‘The Tower of Song’. In my mind this tower, lonely as it is, is full of a thousand great songwriters. The tower of literature must be heaving with great writers, the tower of painting, theatre, music, film… but the tower of choreography? In my mind this would be a lonely place. Dance is a powerful art form. Like music, it can communicate beyond words. It is ritual. It is animal. It is ancient and universal and has been around since man first started to draw on cave walls; maybe even before. But once you remove traditional dance, why is the art form of choreography so young? ‘Modern dance’ was only officially invented in the last century whereas literature has evolved since it was invented. Look at the journey of music. The wealth and range – you can’t begin to fathom it. Film, only possible within the last hundred years or so has grown, despite the great expense and logistics of producing it, and there are thousands of ground-breaking films out there, many great film makers, and any number of books written about how sophisticated and diverse the methods of producing it are.
How many books are written about choreography compared to those written about other art forms? How many ‘experts’ on choreography are there? Make a list of great choreographers, then write another of great writers. The writers’ list is going to go on and on and back through the centuries. You could spend your whole life reading great writers and only scratch the surface of what is out there. But I suspect your great choreographers list will run dry pretty soon and all will be within the last hundred years.
There are great choreographers. But not thousands of them. Choreography is an obscure and rare talent. Knowledge, experience and craft can produce better, even good, choreographers. But real talent, that ‘something else’, I suspect one is born with.
There are many skills needed to become a professional choreographer, and they don’t always sit well together. I will write about the skills I need as I go through the process of making a dance work from scratch, and highlight how, despite making work for several decades, I feel I have so much more to learn.
But something to think of: Muhammad Ali had the two basic prerequisites to becoming a choreographer. He had a keen mind, but he had the talent and discipline to put his mind to rest and dedicate himself to the laborious rigours of physical training he needed to become a skillful, creative and powerful animal able to step into the ring and beat the crap out of anyone, and dance as he did it. In short, he could compete in two rings – that of the mind and that of the body.
On Choreography and Making Dance Theatre by Mark Bruce is out now.
Click here to buy the book.
The Mark Bruce Company is touring their adaptation of Macbeth until
Friday 18th May. Click here for further details.