This piece stemmed from a letter that Bruce received from Joan Jara, the widow of a Chilean singer called Victor Jara. He had been murdered after speaking out against the communist regime of Pinochet and the oppressive measures he was implementing. Bruce was also inspired by the Inti-Illimani folk music from South America and choreographed the work for Rambert in 1981. In 1982 it was nominated for the Society of West End Theatre Awards' Outstanding Achievement of the Year in Ballet.
Pinochet was a dictator who overthrew the Allende government in Chile in 1973. He managed to stay in power for another 25 years until 1998 when he was finally arrested on human rights violations. Pinochet was arrested in London on request from Spain that he should stand trial for 'crimes of genocide and terrorism'.
I made this ballet for the innocent people of South America, who from the time of the Spanish
Conquests have been continuously devastated by political oppression. I would like to give my
thanks to Joan Jara for all her help and to Inti-Illimani for the inspiration of their performances.
(Programme note July 1981)
The piece is definitely worth watching, live if possible, but if not recorded copies are available. It is only about half an hour long and is split into sections. The sections feature a small group of dancers in different situations, with three ghosts who represent the oppressive regime. The other dancers present both male and female Chilean citizens from all walks of life. Throughout the choreography they are killed by the ghosts, and the movements used to show this are harsh and shocking. For me, the way the dance is created really highlights the cruelty that these people suffered and the way in which life was taken so unnecessarily.
'They may not be able to do much, but public opinion in the end means something, and that is a way that I, as an artist, can do my bit for humanity'. This is a quote from Bruce's introductory speech when he first presented the piece.
This quote about the piece and the agenda behind it really defines the way in which I believe art can change the world. Art allows the expression of a message or idea in both a peaceful and powerful manner, through the way it is able to be shared, yet it does not cause harm.
Not only was this work successful in changing the world through the awareness it raised of the regime at the time - for which Pinochet was later charged - but also in the way that it will continue to inspire generations of people like me.
It is this piece that has given me both the awareness and confidence to want to change the world through art. Ghost Dances has inspired my choice to go into a career which combines my legal degree and my love for the arts, through creating arts campaigns for human rights activism.
So not only did it change the world for the Chilean citizens, it changed the world for me.
Image via Rambert