Choreographer: Christopher Bruce
Music: Philip Chambon
Set Design: Christopher Bruce
Lighting: David Mohr
UK Premiere: Theatre Royal, Norwich, 12th April 1995
A person’s last work or act before death or retirement,
A song like that fabled to be sung by a dying swan.
Swansong is split into 6 sections. The piece opens with the victim sitting on a chair stage right. The interrogators enter stage right and perform a brief tap sequence before the music begins. They move to either side of the chair and take it in turns tapping out ‘questions’ which the victim ignores. Initially this seems light-hearted, but with an electronic crash the mood becomes more threatening. This crash is the start of the first section
Section 1- Question and Answers
The section opens with the dancer being pulled off the chair by the first interrogator as the music starts. This music is repeated as is the opening sequence of movement after the victim is returned to the chair. The repetition is trying to create the idea of repeated interrogation and giving a rhythm to the opening. There are slight changes within this to try to convey to the audience the idea of the interrogators trying to trip the victim up.
The dance changes within this section from trio work to duets and solos. The duets are performed by the interrogators, either in unison, performing the same material one after the other, or similar material to attack the victim. The victim performs solo’s as if answering back defiantly. The victim uses open, longer lines than the forceful movements of the interrogators, often performing arabesques, leaps and open-armed gestures representing flight.
Section 3- First Solo
This section is more lyrical than the first two. The section suggests a cry of frustration and anger, as well as the victims urge for freedom. It opens with a crashing sound which suggests a door being slammed. The victim leans forward, one arm extended forwards the other back in a bird like action, however it could also be viewed as a scream. The dancer often moves towards the light that has appeared on stage, giving the illusion of wanting to be free. This section combines both classical and contemporary dance. The victim often uses deep plies, attitudes, arabesques and other off balance positions that lead one into another, again using lots of wing like arm movements (trying to suggest the idea of flight).
At one point the victim curls up on the floor and puts one arm through the gap in under his knee, this could represent a tortured sole. Throughout this piece there is a recurring sound of a call echoing from afar.
Section 6- The Cane Dance
The victim returns to the chair and watches the interrogators an up-tempo soft shoe dance with their canes. Eventually the canes start suggesting weapons used against the victim, the chair is used as a shield against these. The interrogators cast the canes to one side and then repeat the movement material from section 1. It finishes with the victim going limp and the interrogators looking at each other in frustration.
Section 7- Third and Final solo
The interrogators are onstage but motionless. The implication is that the victim has died. The audience are watching the spirit perform the final solo. The victim performs similar material to the first 2 solos however the movements are much more bird like, trying to suggest freedom. It finishes with the victim turning to smile at the interrogators before moving into the light.
The score is an electro-acoustic score of original, sound-sampled, digitally reproduced sounds, ranging from grated metal (created using kitchen pans!) to soft vocalising and including the rhythms of popular forms of dance. The unaccompanied section increases the tension of the work and allows the audience to hear footfalls of the tapped-out interrogation. The score for the more lyrical sections by the victim, includes the sound of the reed-pipe which suggests a link with Bruce’s South American-based word Ghost Dances.