Friday, 12 October 2012

Michael Clark Company – New Work 2012

Tramway, Glasgow
October 4th 2012

When a crop-haired female dancer is lowered from the heavens onto the 
vast expanse of the stage of one of the most significant 
performance/art spaces in Europe, it magnificently sums up the 
audacious spirit of Michael Clark. Especially as the trio that make up 
Green Gartside’s twenty-first century version of one-time squat rockers 
turned glossy 1980 chart stars Scritti Politti are playing The Boom 
Boom Bap, the lead single from Gartside’s 2006 ‘comeback’ album, White 
Bread Black Beer, tucked into the side of the stage beside the action 
the band are under-scoring.

Royal Ballet rebel Clarke fled the tutus and tights set to form his own 
company in 1984, performing to soundtracks dominated in early works by 
the relentless repetitions of The Fall, who he first referenced in his 
1984 piece, New Puritans. It says much for the relative conservatism of 
the contemporary dance world that for more than thirty years, now, 
Clarke has been regarded as a mould-breaking enfant-terrible, part 
punk, part Puck, part Peter Pan.

Now aged 50, and rarely seen onstage these days, Clarke’s 
well-documented wild years have now given way to a kind of 
pan-generational elder-statesman status akin to some of the 
first-generation post-punk bands who’ve reformed to show the 
skinny-jeaned new wave of pretenders how it’s done.

Unlike those acts, rehab permitting, Clark has rarely been away, and 
has done much of his growing up in public. The relationship between his 
choreography and the music that provides its pulse-beat, too, has been 
a constant, seemingly providing increasingly intimate elements of 
personal salvation beyond the frissons of bum-baring outrage.

It’s almost a quarter of a century now since Clark and The Fall’s Mark 
E Smith masterminded I Am Kurious Orange, a larger than life main-stage 
spectacle that turned English history into an Old Firm football match 
and had Smith’s then spouse and Fall guitarist Brix Smith enter perched 
astride a giant hamburger. Somewhere among all this, the band, onstage 
throughout, played a version of William Blake’s Jerusalem amidst a 
welter of new material. As a major Edinburgh International Festival 
commission, to suggest I Am Kurious Orange shook up the city’s culture 
vultures is something of an understatement.

More recently, in something of a prodigal’s return to EIF in 2009, 
Clarke had his troupe perform to a set of 1970s proto-punk classics, by 
Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and David Bowie. This included a routine accompanied 
by the distractingly iconic video of a post-Berlin David Bowie 
performing Heroes. Only a few weeks ago, Clark choreographed a 
large-scale community project at Glasgow’s Barrowlands, the legendary 
dance-hall turned even more legendary music venue.

For this new programme, opening in Glasgow before transferring to The 
Barbican, Clarke shows he's not lost his edge with two very different 
halves, set first to the analog techno squelch of Jarvis Cocker and 
Jason Buckle’s Relaxed Muscle project, who performed live with Clark's 
company in March and will do so again when New Work 2012 transfers to 
the Barbican later this month, followed by the honeyed melancholy skank 
of the aforementioned Scritti Politti. Seen back to back, the wildness 
and fragility that follows showcases both sides of Clark's creative 

Once the curtains open to quell the palpable sense of collective 
anticipation that pervades the room, however, things begin with Pulp's 
Brit-Pop era F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E. Here, Cocker's slice of 
obsession turned to triumph is illustrated by the Company's eight 
dancers moving in superhero style orange/red costumes like 
science-fiction automatons trying to connect. Words from the song's 
breathily delivered lyrics are projected onto the huge screen behind, 
the typography throwing shapes as much as those onstage. Two new 
tracks, Joyce and Jimmy, strip things back to a state of dirty-assed 
primitivism that's reflected in the choreography, a series of 
minimalist routines which criss-cross each other without ever touching.

By the time the music moves into The Heavy, 3-Way Accumulator and 
Beastmaster, three tracks from Relaxed Muscle's tellingly titled 2003 
debut album, A Heavy Night With... the dancers are dressed like op-art 
ancient Egyptians dancing with mirror-topped stools that dazzle as 
they're whirled close to the dancers bodies. For the bump and grind of 
Beastmaster, dancers crawl the stage or else ride astride each other as 
they give way to their fill animal magnetism.

If the first half is about desire at its most basic, the second, 
Scritti-accompanied half is an altogether quieter, more tender affair, 
and it’s telling that the six songs the band play from White Bread 
Black Beer are some of the most reflective on the album. The cheers 
that greet Gartside, keyboardist Rhodri Marsden and drummer Nick 
Roberts descend into hush once they begin The Boom Boom Bap as the 
dancer is lowered onto terra firma. As the other seven move slowly 
onstage in turn, dressed in androgynous shorts, kilts or dresses, the 
moves they make are more fluid, sweeping across the stage in a 
bitter-sweet dreamscape of unfulfilled yearning.

It's desire again, but more intimate and personal somehow, both in 
Gartside's lyrics and Clark's choreography. Together against a backdrop 
of a huge blue-projected screen that recalls the late Derek Jarman’s 
minimalist celluloid masterpiece, Blue, they form an impressionistic 
narrative that beguiles. While No Fine Lines, Cooking and After Six 
lend a jauntiness to the dancers inter-weaving, by the time that Clark 
himself joins the company onstage for a show-stealing turn in shorts 
sand vest, the finale of Petrococadollar and Window Wide Open may be 
downbeat, but it's also tinged with hope.

Gartside looks a tad off his stride when the seated audience don't clap 
between songs as they would at a regular gig, and when the dancers grab 
him by the hand to take a bow, he appears charmingly bewildered by the 
formality of the occasion. Either that, or the fact that the capacity 
crowd has finally been allowed to give vent to a noisy homage, to 
Scritti and the dancers for sure, but mainly to the twenty-first 
century renaissance man that is Michael Clark.

Michael Clark Company – New Work 2012, Barbican, London, October 

The Quietus, October 2012


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