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Student dance film shines light on relationship struggles

“BRUISES” mixes love, heartbreak and striking choreography in a contemporary dance set to an orchestral version of Lewis Capaldi’s song “Bruises.”

Directed and choreographed by Alexi Broman, a fourth-year University of North Carolina School of the Arts dance student, and danced by UNCSA students Lily Chan and Jarrod Harrell, the short dance film released in November 2020, as part of the UNCSA Emerging Choreographers program showcases a story about an emotional breakup in which both partners cannot stop thinking about each other.

The dance is filmed in a combination of a wide stage shots showing full-body movement and more abstract, up-close angles. On a simply set stage, the two dancers are separated by a single curtain down the middle. The film begins with low lighting that increases to single spotlights as each dancer starts dancing, with most of the background ominously eclipsed in darkness. The camera pans side to side with each verse or so, making the dancers’ individual choreography appear as a conversation back and forth.

As the vocals intensify leading to the chorus of the music, the spotlights become tinted blue and yellow. The dancers come together in beautifully extended penchés and perform the same choreography while still separated by the curtain. A pattern of shifting between individual and synchronized choreography, both consisting of technique and emotion, continues throughout the piece.

The dancers eventually sync up again, facing the curtain like they know someone is on the other side as Capaldi sings the lyrics, “Your love I’m lost in/Even though I’m nothing to you now.” After a final section of individual choreography by both dancers, the woman exits on the final note of the music, leaving the man alone on the other side of the curtain.

The dance represents the end of a relationship, in which both parties are struggling to move on because their thoughts are bombarded with memories of their time together, or in Capaldi’s words, “the bruises that you left behind.” This struggle of staying away from the thought of the other person is represented through synchronized choreography and the dancers’ constant return to the curtain throughout the piece. The utilization of complementary spotlight colors demonstrates contrast between the couple, while the use of the curtain represents a barrier between them, both pushing them apart and preventing them from getting back together. While the dancers almost meet at the edge of the curtain near the end of the film, they are pulled away by unknown forces once again. Despite the “bruises,” the woman finally gets the courage to leave for good.

The choreography is a satisfying balance of technical skills like pirouettes, leaps and intricate floorwork, and more emotional movements like contractions, as well as head and arm choreography. This blend allows for aesthetically pleasing and successful storytelling. While the minimalistic set and subtle, but impactful, lighting highlights the dancing, the abundance of up-close camera angles creates missed opportunities to showcase certain elements of the choreography. For example, when the man starts doing fouetté turns, the camera only shows his chest up, cutting off his legs, which perform impressive work during that move. However, the film as a whole is still effective because the up-close shots also make it feel more intimate—like watching something very private and personal—allowing the audience to feel all the bruises that were left behind.


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