Michael Clark Company @ Barbican , London

directed by
Michael Clark
When Michael Clark, undisputed lenfant terrible of contemporary dance, puts on a new work, its always an occasion.

The latest production from Clarks eponymous company, as part of Dance Umbrella, promises to be an insight into Clarks musical heritage and continues his tradition of working with artists from different disciplines, using the 70s rock ‘holy trinity’ of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and David Bowie.

Even if it has already been shown at Edinburgh, suffice to say, these London dates are a Big Deal for the capitals culturati.
As a bright hope for the Royal Ballet with a promising future, Clark famously walked away to pursue something less rigid, less classical, more him. Opening this years programme was Swamp, originally choreographed for Rambert Dance Company, at a time when Rambert was itself veering towards the more contemporary and experimental, having just changed its name from Ballet Rambert. Swamp is a reflection of this change in both Clark and Rambert (which Clark himself danced with), serving as almost a throwback of classical ballet.

It is a technically challenging piece, with plenty of slow-motion dvelopps, poss and arabesques one could even see the dancers leg muscles shaking. However, the classical comparisons end there: movements have a robot feel to it, accompanied by a deliberately clean set with a strobe of light travelling across the background. A very chaotic final section alongside increasingly loud and hectic music was, on closer inspection, separate duets and group movements, but with constantly changing partners, showing off Clarks clever choreography and use of group dynamics. That said, good choreography could not hide the fact that the piece was under-rehearsed, with the timing off some unisons and angles slightly out of place on several occasions, which is a terrible shame.

However, what everyone was waiting for was, of course, Come, Been, Gone. The opening again saw Clarks excellent use of group dynamics, not just in movements but in wonderfully provocative costumes: a (gender-ambiguous) dancer clad in a silver all-in-one, complete with mask; a group of men in skin-tight silver leggings; a female in white with black cut-outs of where her breasts are; others had their mouths covered with red scarves.

The first part of Come, Been, Gone was set entirely to Velvet Underground, with the frantic jumps and leaps of White Light/White Heat followed by a shocking image on display in Heroin that of someone covered in syringes, writhing on the ground and reaching up, or staggering across the stage with arms out not only a reference to the lyrics but also Clarks own troubled past with drug addiction.

The second part, featuring mostly the music of David Bowie, stepped up a gear and showed just how Clark could appeal to both purists and those with no dance experience. The immediacy of ‘Heroes’, during which the music video of Bowie is projected onto the stage, or Clarks short solo as a lesson in simple grace, cannot be faulted.

The closing, just as any good entertainment, ends in a jubilant mood, along to Bowies The Jean Genie. The dancers orange catsuits are topped off with black-and-white striped jackets, against a bright blue background.

The energetic, punchy choreography ensures dance can never be accused of alienating, abstract or pretentious. A pair of dancers, en pointe, march onto the stage in perfect timing with the drums of the song; classical ballet phrases are performed with a jazz twist; a split is coupled with dare I say it headbanging.

Just like those artists that have come, been and gone and left a great legacy, so is Clarks choreography in all its beauty. Loud music, drugs, sexual undertones no-one else in dance does rock’n’ roll like Michael Clark.

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