Behind the mask: Rambert bring the iconic Ghost Dances to Norwich
- Credit: Anthony Crickmay
The skeleton-like characters in Christopher Bruce's work are amongst the most iconic in modern dance. It features in Rambert Dance Company's latest triple-bill in Norwich. Daniel Davidson tells us about being a ghost and what its like to dance in a mask.
'We have a part were we stand still and if you're out of breath you sound like Darth Vader,' says Daniel Davidson on the odd experience of dancing in a mask.
The Rambert performer is taking a break from rehearsals at the contemporary dance company's base on London's South Bank to talk about his role as one of the iconic 'ghosts' in a revival of Christopher Bruce's 1981 work Ghost Dances.
'This is the first time I've danced in a mask,' he adds. 'It doesn't sound like it should be a big deal but as well as covering your sight, which has its own problems, you can also hear yourself breathing inside it and that can be quite off putting.'
One of the most celebrated contemporary dance pieces of its generation, Ghost Dances is an evocative tribute to the victims of political oppression in South America, set to bewitching rhythms of traditional Latin American songs.
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It tells stories of love and compassion, as death – in the form of the iconic 'ghost dancers' – interrupts the daily lives of a series of ordinary people. Visually the piece is iconic with its skeleton-like costumes referencing celebrations of the Day of the Dead. And dance in a mask isn't the only challenge for the performers. They also have to apply their own striking all over body make-up themselves in the interval.
'During a triple bill we will come off after the second pieces and in the 20 minute interval we have to quickly paint your entire body with black and white,' explains Daniel. 'There is no make-up artist. The closest we get is Chris Bruce who taught us how to do it. He said memorise this and we had to learn how to do it. The first time it took me about 45 minutes, but now I've got it down to about 10. The hardest part is actually stopping sweating because if you're still wet it runs off.'
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Ghost Dances return to UK stages for the first time in 13 years last year as part of Rambert's 90th anniversary celebrations. This week it comes to Norwich as part of a triple bill that also includes The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses by in demand UK choreographer Aletta Collins, and Symbiosis, a new piece made with acclaimed Greek choreographer Andonis Foniadakis, with a new score by BAFTA and Ivor Novello Award-nominated composer Ilan Eshkeri.
'I have really enjoyed working with Andonis because the way that he moves is something that I feel like I can really get behind. I like his choreographic voice,' says Daniel, who was born in Edinburgh and who joined Rambert in 2014 after eight years at Scottish Ballet.
'Producing new work is quite exciting and something I enjoy because of the feel of creative involvement. New creations tend to be really collaborative. Choreographers come in offer you their vision and you respond and bring your own things to it.'
Having just been put through his paces, he adds: 'Symbiosis is about 22 or 23 minutes of intense dancing and just whilst we have been rehearsing it I have been thinking 'gosh we have to dance two other pieces in the same evening'. It can be pretty exhausting, but it is good though that we have a pretty mixed repertoire and so it is nice that you can have pieces that are all pretty different. Rambert is good at offering new works along side its classic works, so the audience get to see different things.'
Different in tone is The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses, which takes its title from a poem by Charles Bukowski, and is a witty, lively depiction of how everyday moments make up a life, set to Arturo Márquez's pulsating music Danzones.
The show-stopping finale of their visit to Norwich though will undoubtedly be Ghost Dances. Christopher Bruce has been hands on for its revival.
'He is quite strict with his personal style in terms of the steps are what the steps are,' reveals Daniel. 'He doesn't adapt his work hugely but he will tweak it here and there depending on what looks better on us. We have an archive system so we can watch it being performed previously at Sadler's Wells and so it was interesting to watch and then have him be there to describe his thought process.
'To hear what his intension of what is behind the characters of the ghosts was fascinating. You see them on stage and they look like Mexican Day of the Dead skeletons. But the way that he described them was that they were kind of animals and the space on the stage is their lair into which people enter, and the creatures help the villagers move through the transition between life and death.'
The chance to don the mask and make-up was extra special to Daniel as he first saw the work on a school trip when he was aged 16.
'It really left a big impression on me and so when I found out we were reviving it last year I was excited,' he said. 'I feel honoured to be dancing one of the ghosts because there have been some big names who have done it. A good friend of mine, Paul Liburd, was one of the ghosts in that production in Edinburgh, then later I worked with him at Scottish Ballet and I was like 'oh my god, it's him!'
'Also when we first performed it at Sadler's Wells one of the directors of my college, who had been in the very first Ghost Dance cast, he was the original Indian Boy, came to watch the show. To have someone who was so important to me and who had guided my career, watch me in it was pretty special.'
• Rambert Dance Company, Norwich Theatre Royal, October 19-20, 7.30pm, £25-£8, 01603 630000, theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk