Interesting as all the performances are, Mark Bruce cannot make Frankenstein a coherent whole

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mark Bruce Company’s Frankenstein: The Place, London, 26.3.2024. (JO’D)

Jonathan Godard (The Monster) and Eleanor Duval (Prometheus) © Mark Bruce

Liberation Day
Written, choreographed and directed by Mark Bruce
Music – Mark Bruce
Vocalist – Eva Trodd
Costume designer – Dorothee Brodrück
Lighting designer – Guy Hoare

Choreographed and Directed by Mark Bruce
Music – Iain Bellamy, Krzysztof Penderecki, Frédéric Chopin, Clara Rockmore and Nadia Reisenberg, Arvo Pärt, David Eugene Edwards, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Costume designer – Dorothee Brodrück
Lighting designer – Guy Hoare

The Monster – Jonathan Goddard
Prometheus – Eleonor Duval
Bride of the Monster – Cordelia Braithwaite
Narcissus – Carina Howard
Doctor Frankenstein – Dominic Rocca
Elizabeth – Anna Daly

Eleven years after his dance-theatre version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was performed to acclaim at Wilton’s Music Hall, choreographer Mark Bruce turns his attention to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Jonathan Goddard, again, takes the title role. Eleonor Duval also returns, this time as a winged Prometheus. Guy Hoare and Dorothee Brodrück provide lighting and costumes, respectively, as before.

A row of naked bulbs along the front of the stage, to resemble footlights, gives the rather antiseptic auditorium of The Place the air of a Victorian theatre from the start. Haze adds to the atmosphere. We are, once again, in the dark, Gothic, occasionally gruesome world of Mark Bruce’s imagination.

But the evening does not begin with Frankenstein. A twenty-minute-long ‘makeweight’, Liberation Day, serves to introduce the six dancers of the company and their movement signatures. The maturity of Jonathan Goddard and Eleanor Duval (eleven years is eleven years) contrasts with the lightness of the younger dancers. Cordelia Braithwaite and Dominic Rocca are the two who catch the attention here.

Dracula was a full-blown, two-act piece. At only fifty-five minutes long, Frankenstein is sketchier, with something of the ‘work in progress’ about it. The relationship between Doctor Frankenstein and The Monster seems underdeveloped. Or else Mark Bruce, as a choreographer, chose instead to focus on the vampish dancing of the four female performers. It is in the haunting images it creates, especially during the closing sequence, that Frankenstein in its present form succeeds most of all.

From Fuseli’s The Nightmare to Michelangelo’s La Pietà, Mark Bruce ranges freely over the past for visual inspiration. Musically, too, the piece is eclectic, with recordings of the work of Penderecki, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, David Eugene Edwards, et al. In terms of narrative, Frankenstein departs from Mary Shelley’s original to include the aforementioned Prometheus, in reference perhaps to the work of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Narcissus (a striking Carina Howard with bow and arrow).

Anna Daley (Elizabeth) and Jonathan Godard (The Monster) © Mark Bruce

The muscular Jonathan Goddard is sympathetic as The Monster who questions his own existence; the slighter, nimble Dominic Rocca shows Doctor Frankenstein to be conscience-stricken. Anna Daly, as Elizabeth, expresses fear of and pity for her husband’s ‘creation’, ultimately allowing herself to be murdered by him, as if in expiation.

Interesting as all the performances are, they cannot make of Frankenstein a coherent whole. Why the folk-dancing sequence, en face? Why, after all, Narcissus on a plinth with bow and arrow? Perhaps it does not matter. Dracula was not completely coherent, either. It, too, contained an unexplained ‘music hall’ sequence in which Dracula danced with two chorines. Perhaps the work of Mark Bruce will always be about atmosphere and images.

And the lack of narrative clarity notwithstanding, is it fanciful to trace, in aspects of his choreography, in the way the male dancers in particular are presented on the stage, a line leading back through his choreographer father, Christopher Bruce, to Marie Rambert (the latter’s teacher), and to dance at the beginning of the twentieth century? Even to the figure of Vaslav Nijinsky, with whom Marie Rambert worked, himself?

John O’Dwyer

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