Tobacco Factory Theatre Associate Dance Artists The Mark Bruce Company premier their new show Made in Heaven at the TFT on Friday 18 May as part of Mayfest. Described as a ‘savagely beautiful piece of dance theatre’, it brings together much of what was celebrated about the company’s sell-out Mayfest hit Love & War two years ago, including a lush and distinctive visual aesthetic, an exhilarating soundtrack that ranges from the Romantics to rock, and epic themes. This time, though, there are also severed heads, mermaids, and vintage frocks…
TFT producer Melanie Zaalof interrupted the show’s German costume designer Dorothee Brodruck mid tear-repair to find out how Mark Bruce’s work eschews the grey unitard uniform of contemporary dance for a colourful, daring and diverse range of cinematic characters.
Doro at work on 60 meters of satin for the sea...
You live in Berlin, Mark lives in Frome… How did you meet?
I met him last year in Switzerland. He created Medea for Bern Ballet and I designed the costumes. We only had contact via email and phone for six months; we met just six weeks before the premiere!
Mark’s a bit of polymath, composing, writing and designing as well as choreographing. How strong was the design brief?
The ideas in Mark’s head were already set, not in a time but it definitely had elements from the 50s and that was quite clear. Certain characters, like the Virgin Mary, had to look and be recognised as Mary, but within that I was free to design. He has a strong picture of the characters in his head and we discussed these ideas and developed them together.
Mark’s work is influenced by film, and has a certain cinematic quality. Did you find this influenced your costumes?
I watched a few films but they were not relevant to the costumes. It was more for the themes that are in the films. I watched a Sam Peckinpah film. There was a storyline of a chopped up head and it was like the severed head which features in the show.
So where did you look for inspiration then?
I had a pin-up book and I was looking for inspiration in that. They have such beautiful dresses, the whole vintage look. It was really good to look at real pictures from the 50s. I watched some dancing films also from the 50s, like Singing in the Rain, which I watched twice or maybe three times. Musical theatre on screen is fashionable again. And also the 50s. I spent a lot of time in vintage shops. It was quite interesting I was in a second hand shop in Berlin, a really good one, and the woman collects very beautiful dresses from the 30s, 40s and 50s. She said the 50s dresses were becoming more and more expensive because of programmes like Mad Men.
Doro's costume sketches
You must have done a lot of the development work whilst in Berlin. Did you find your ideas changed once you arrived in the UK and met the dancers?
Meeting the dancers was fantastic. The dancers’ personalities were stronger than the images in my head. For example, Greig plays the Sinister Kid and I was imagining him in a worn out suit. On the first day of rehearsals I met Greig and he was wearing a scarf exactly like I thought his character would. He suits the part. Mark’s casting is very good. I felt like I knew all the dancers already.
A dance show is very physical. What additional considerations do you have when designing and making costumes for dancers?
The practical requirements are more challenging. It is totally different to theatre. I only buy fabrics with elastic in them, so that they can stretch with the dancer’s movements. In that way is a little more difficult. The seams have to be sewn more strongly and with the trousers you have to make a different cut to normal trousers so that there is more space. I also consider the cleaning. All of the costumes apart from one can be washed very easily. The way the fabric looks under light when it moves is also important. I have some very rich, satin and silk fabrics that reflect the light and will look great.
The production is bringing together a wide range of designers, including puppet makers and contemporary artists. How did you find the experience of working with such a diverse group of creative talent?
It’s very good. You all share skills and find new ways of working. I met with Paul Boswell and Rachel MacLeay [prop and set designers] very early on and it was really helpful to see the world they create. They use all these old materials and recycle them into props and scenery. It was good to meet them before the whole process started so that the costumes and world they create sit together well.
Working with Pickled Image [puppet designers and makers] was exciting. Vicky showed me how to create the mechanism for the mermaid’s tail. I haven’t done anything like that before so it was good to work with Vicky and Dik who have skills and materials that are new to me. I would like to work with puppeteers again.
I met Guy Hoare [lighting designer] a few weeks ago and it was so inspiring to hear how he speaks about light. He is painting a whole landscape on stage with just lights. We’re looking at how we can place LED lights in the scales of the Mermaid’s tail. Again this is something I have not done before.
It all sounds really intriguing. How do you think the audience will react to the piece?
I know people will certainly have lots of questions when they see it but I think they will understand it. It’s not only a dance piece; it’s also a play and you can really put your own ideas into the work. There is space for your imagination. I think it’s a piece you could watch so many times. I always see new things when I watch it: lots of layers, but very beautiful.
This is your first time in Bristol. How are you finding the city?
I like the city very much. I honestly think this is a city I could live in and that doesn’t happen often. It’s Berlin, Hamburg and now it’s Bristol. I like the different quarters. It’s a bit like Berlin, almost like lots of villages together and each one is so different. Such strong worlds. Montpelier has that cool roundabout and it’s so alive. I went to Gloucester Road, which was good for shopping.
In rehearsal... with some of Doro's creations
From Berlin to Bristol, a European collaboration – how do you find it working in different countries?
Flying between Bristol and Berlin is easy. My first language is German but in many European theatres the work language is English. Working in different countries is a challenge I think you have to learn quickly and figure things out fast. You have to discover things, like how to work if you’re not in your own studio or where the best place to buy materials is. You have to be well organised and bring all of the things you need with you. If you forget something it’s a problem because your things are in another country. But it’s very inspiring, you discover so many new places and materials and the new people you work with. I like it a lot.
Made in Heaven premiers at the Tobacco Factory Theatre from 18 – 20 May as part of Mayfest. Visit www.markbrucecompany.com/current for the full tour schedule. Teaser trailer below...