Michael Clark Company – animal/vegetable/mineral
Saturday 24th May, 7.30pm
Hailed as ‘British dance’s true iconoclast’, Michael Clark creates work that combines his classical integrity with a more complex, contemporary sensibility, embracing virtue and vice, abandon and control, grace and embarrassment.
Michael Clark Company returned to Norwich with this latest work that continues Clark’s history of close collaboration with contemporary artists, designers and musicians.
Michael Clark and I ‘go back’ a long way and judging by the age of many audience members, I am not the only one- there were many of us who were original fans. Having seen Michael’s dance company perform on many occasions, the first being back in 1983 when I saw him dance with a favourite band of mine (The Fall) and where I considered my neophyte mind fairly blown, it was great to realise that I have not lost my capacity for this nor has Michael lost his capacity to render me open mouthed with delight, adrenalin and a little bit of wistful nostalgia too.
Clark has always exerted both cause and effect in culture- art, dance, music, costume and technology and this performance is a perfect example of this with lighting by Charles Atlas, music by the past and present enfants terrible – Pil and the Sex Pistols, les enfants not so terrible (Scritti Politti) and costumes by Body Map’s Stevie Stewart.
Referencing the glory days of our punk and new wave youths, the dancers stretched and contracted into their Maths protractor shapes to the thrum of heavy bass dressed in super cool black kilts that referenced Gaultier. They danced as the term ‘wavy flexibility’ sounds, casting marionette like Y, C, A and S shapes interspersed with long stretches and a courtly parading and intertwining. A soundtrack that stopped it from getting too pretty pretty, the use of emptiness of stage and insertion of dervish, whippy, staccato moves meant nobody in the audience was relaxing back into their seats.
Clarks dancers invite both male and female gaze with their focus very much upon the body- we have no choice but to let our eyes fall upon the length of leg and shaved back of head and bare nape of neck. There is no superfluous costume to hide behind, no set to speak of other than the lighting with its backdrop of lines, saturated and cold colour and in the second half, the VT of band of Relaxed Muscle, lion tamer bold and sleazy in that cool Halston crossed with circus vibe with attendant ragga girl drummer. The languid lounge lizarding of Jarvis Cocker was very much an influence in both set design, musical composition and all pervasive air. By this point it was apparent how much the dancers were enjoying their performance with several of them smiling broadly at the back of the stage as they caught each others eyes.
This morphed into an earthy, excellently sleazy yet punchy riff reminding me of Sally Bowles with her Cabaret stool as Relaxed Muscle played at being ‘Beastmaster’ (the title of this piece) and the dancers interspersed grinding on their stools with a hand movement that seemed to riff off the sixties ‘Mashed Potato’ dance. Stools kept beast at bay whilst providing a prop for some animalistic grinding and phallic imagery. A line formation brought each dancer to the foreground of the stage and our attention. Animal howls and a pink lit tinge to the fringing on the dancers Zebra striped leotarded arms; pelvic rolls and thrusts that were curiously abbreviated and movements that appeared not fully extended to a full form and deliberately boxed off all building to an exhilarating climax.
In a previous interview, dancer Julie Cunningham told how the title of this show can be as meaningless or meaningful as each audience members wanted it to be. Comprising three sections, it would be easy to declare each one represented one word- Zebra costume = ‘animal’ and the winding, budded, chrysalis like shapes made by the dancers in one of the first half pieces = ‘plant’ but this seems far too simplistic for us. Rather we prefer to just Be at a Michael Clark performance because having to think too hard about it destroys a lot of the joyous, adrenalinergic, corporeal and immediate response we have to his work.
“The most exhilarating new piece of contemporary dance to appear in Britain this year, by turns ravishing, outrageous, borderline certifiable, and sometimes all three at once“, Daily Telegraph
This show is presented as part of Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2014.