DANCE / Extracting the essence of Michael: Michael Clark - Brixton Academy

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The Independent Culture
THE PANELS at the back of the stage fly open and there he is. Michael Clark makes his way downstage, sliding a foot carefully before him as if to clear a path. He is so pretty, so tall, so fragile. Is this Kate Moss with a shaved head?

Michael Clark's O is his first show since MMM in 1992. Back then he hinted that punk was for him a thing of the past: no longer was he going to flounce about to 'God Save the Queen' or wiggle an outsized dildo in our faces or blast us with The Fall live on stage. Things were beginning to change a decade after he said 'up yours' to the Royal Ballet and went screaming through the raucous hedonism and speedy excitement of punk.

Now there's a new Michael Clark. He's quiet, even a touch subdued. He's on to something different in dance and is serious about exploring it. There are no jokes, and the few visual puns are by the by. Has this made him boring? Fat chance. Michael Clark is more transcendent than ever. He seems not of this world, like an exotic sea creature brought in by the tide and so ethereal he leaves no trace in the sand. His androgyny - the fingertip elegance, pretty-girl face and tapered body - make him mysterious, mystical even.

Clark has always been as gifted a choreographer as he is a dancer. Movement is precise with a strong technical base. Now, stripped of the parodic regalia, he is dancing with even greater refinement. Long limbs, superb balance and control create the most gorgeous lines. All these are apparent even when he lies on his back, head tilted for support, spine curved over in a half-moon. Miles of leg and beautifully arched feet meet the ground, then he lifts himself from his iron stomach and neatly flips over. When standing, shoulders form a diagonal, star-jumps splay from the hips or a leg helixes in rich, luscious moves. The weight in the pelvis is an anchor for the torso and a hinge for the fluid legs. This is the stunning new style developed from earlier experiments.

In the first half he mostly slides and glides on the floor to an uncredited mix of heavy metal, but when he rises, he ignores the thrashing rhythms and sets his own perfectly unhurried pace. The second half, set to Stravinsky's Apollo, has a spectacular start with an amphibious Clark scaling the walls of a large, glassy box. The mirrors, the music and the movement are striking. But after this mesmerising solo, the piece wobbles, briefly regains its balance - and peters out as though there was no more time to wrestle with detail. The cohesion of the first piece is missing, but here, more than before, Clark seems to live inside the music, breathing with its rhythms to find its essence.

Clark is the ballast for his company of young dancers. Gone are the eccentric Leigh Bowery and the willowly Matthew Hawkins. They have been replaced by three women and a man who, although impressive, are hopelessly outshone by the luminous Clark. The women are small and, dare I say, dumpy. Did he choose them as a counterpoise? The man, Daniel Squire, is shaped like Clark, but perhaps a company of too many Clark replicas would look syrupy. At the moment the women bring grit to the bone-china delicacy of the pieces.

The Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker brought her company, Rosas, to the South Bank on Friday with Toccata. The piece is performed on a special stage cut out to accommodate a grand piano on which Jos van Immerseel plays five J S Bach suites.

De Keersmaeker has succeeded Mark Morris in residence at the La Monnaie opera house in Brussels but, unlike Morris, who creates dance that makes Bach sound like he was composing last week, De Keersmaeker's Bach feels every bit of his 300 years. To continue the admittedly unfair comparisons, her lyrical dance lacks the technical tautness of Siobhan Davies, and her randomness lacks the formations Merce Cunningham is able to sculpt from snatches of movement.

A girl with tarty, what'ya- looking-at legs and a man who puts grace in his Charlie Chaplin paddle-feet walk are engaging, but a handful of absorbing dance phrases do not an entertaining evening make. De Keersmaeker is a choreographer with integrity and a certain flair; she's worthy and sincere but dull.

Michael Clark: Brixton Academy, SW9, 071-924 9999, 21-25 June.

(Photograph omitted)