Made in Heaven

Sat 23rd June 2012

reviews

Thomas Stell

at 02:40 on 24th Jun 2012

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Characters from a dream, fluid in identity like huge shapes vague and sinister, people the world of “Made in Heaven”. The piece shows us a world of the imagination, of loose associations, and that I admire. How subtly or expertly this is done is another matter, and a matter about which I have some doubts.

So far as one can make out a story, it is of a girl who dreams onto the stage a pair of lovers (to Debussy and Tcherepnin), then a chain gang (to Leadbelly), then a monstrous sheriff. Now the scene becomes clear – the man is a prison governor keeping these convicts on an island; now it fades back into a haze of possibly symbolic figures as the girl gives birth to a winged stone cherub, or children play hockey with a severed head.

It is principally the score that limits this work. So much is hard rock, and one cannot produce good dance from this – the beat is too powerful, it dominates the performers’ movement and allows no formal complexity. The vocal lines are monotonous and any feeling contained in the music is base and without nuance, so there is no emotion that the dancers can use to give their gestures meaning. Nothing really does come of nothing.

To its credit the piece approaches an Artaudian spectacle of the raw and savage, and some details stick in the memory. A mermaid has her tail cut off with horrid, sawing knife cuts. Rick Bland plays a grotesque androgyne in a white robe like a nun’s habit, his great butcher’s face grinning out of the wimple. Moments like these are indeed horrifying, but they are too infrequent, and most of the ideas seem rather worn out – the traditional uniform of the sheriff, or the faintly BDSM costumes of some of his companions.

Some may hold that this production could have been saved by a few adjustments, certainly the idea of the nightmarish setting is a good one, but my guess is that its faults run too deep. Unsophisticated music will never encourage the making of a sophisticated choreography, and if its beat is as marked as it is in most rock or grunge, it will prevent the dance following anything other than its own boring pattern. You can see why the company chose the pieces they did, the very loud noise certainly makes the action seem even more brutal, but given the loss of subtlety it wasn’t worth it; the whole thing became rather cheap.

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Melissa Tricoire

at 14:59 on 24th Jun 2012

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Tacky, weird and haunting, Mark Bruce’s ‘Made in Heaven’ is an eclectic collage of the grotesque and the poetic, merging Biblical imagery and Tarantinoesque sensationalism, showing characters of animal beauty and hellish darkness trapped on an semi-Heavenly, semi-Hellish island. This piece opens with a prairie girl twitching in her sleep, an Alice in Wonderland-like virgin, waking up from a bad dream to Sonic Youth’s ‘The Diamond Sea’. She embarks on a coming-of-age journey: dreaming of romance she gives herself to a stranger, but soon finds herself trapped in a sleazy and slimy world of strip clubs, enthralling men to the sound of heavy metal. Disturbing and surreal, her transfiguration from teenager to woman makes her both a Virgin Mary and a Mary Magdalene.

‘Made in Heaven’ is both a blasting and blasted vision: despite the cop narrator first introducing us to the penitentiary rules of this bizarre island, it is hard to clearly delineate a narrative, rather we are shown a series of snapshots, more hellish than heavenly: a sailor dancing with his sweetheart, a man having his eyes plucked out, wild teenagers playing hockey with a severed head… Release and Peace are banned: the piece features slaves convulsing to the rhythm of old blues under the watch of a devilish cop, and puppets furiously thrusting under the burning sun of debauchery. Even if an attempt at comic relief is made by an eccentric and creepy nun in drags, jesting among dancers imitating the ladies from the Parisian Crazy Horse, ‘Made in Heaven’ remains somehow painful to watch: it is a dark tale of eternal suffering questioning the nature and the very existence of Paradise.

It is hard to pin down Mark Bruce’s mishmashed vision and ever-changing choreographic style, moving from ballet to voodoo and samba, but professionalism reigns: dancers, lighting and sound associate to offer startlingly graphic dance sequences unfolding to a powerful and disquieting score mixing classical music and hard rock.

Mad, dark and sometimes ironic, this production provoked a mixed response: a couple of people left the room never to return, a few giggles were heard, some ‘weird’ and ‘strange’ were gasped, and the performers received a rather lukewarm applause. Such reactions betray the strength and weakness of Mark Bruce’s vision: it is a perfectly choreographed extravaganza, mixing modern and ancient myths which sometimes verges on the ridiculous and the nonsensical.

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