Michael Clark, Barbican, London
Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House, London
Come, Been and Gone? It's a case of All Seen and Done
Sunday 06 June 2010
What, you have to wonder, did Michael Clark intend by calling his current show Come, Been and Gone? It could be a wry comment on his own career trajectory, but given Clark's penchant for appearing in his ballets wearing a loo seat, the meaning is just as likely scatological. Even at the ripe age of 48, the choreographer is still at pains to prove his punk credentials, though in fact this material goes even further back, to the musical tastes of his teens – Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, David Bowie.
What distinguishes Clark's work and keeps audiences returning is not just the decibel load or the rude-boy gags but the combining of these with a rigorous dance puritanism. Whether moving to Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs" or Bowie's "Aladdin Sane", the steps subscribe to a cool, unhurried classicism that never wavers. And the current line-up of Clark's seven-strong company is the most technically accomplished ever: man-sized, woman-shaped Kate Coyne with her sphinx-like calm; tiny, impassive Melissa Hetherington with her ice-sculpture balances, and now stunning newcomer Benjamin Warbis, a dead ringer for the choreographer in his dancing prime.
Clark himself makes several brief, heavily disguised appearances during the course of Come, Been and Gone, at one point trapped in what looks like a Mothercare feeding chair. Gnomic, grey, and a shadow of his former self, you rather wish he wouldn't.
Another low point is the sight of big Kate Coyne in a hideous bodysuit stuck all over with syringes, a latterday Saint Sebastian, alternating between resolute arcs of movement and crumpled falls to Lou Reed singing "Heroin". Even without the dismal resonance of Clark's own history with the drug, this is sledgehammer stuff.
It's the costumes, though, that rescue other numbers: the men look fetching in pink houri veils, and Coyne spooks as human disco-ball, her entire face and body covered in tiny mirrors. Other dances, though, border on boring, at least in cumulative effect, set invariably to music with a slow, dull beat. You know that feeling when, come the interval (and this show has two), people stretch and yawn and have nothing to say? Unspoken disillusion lay heavy as a mid-week hangover on the art-school crowd near me in the Barbican stalls.
Only in the last few minutes does Clark pull out the stops. To "Aladdin Sane", the company leaps about in shot-gold vermilion against a radiant tangerine wall, while "Jean Genie" sets girls marching on their pointes like sassy majorettes. The Barbican has signed up Clark for a further stint as artist in residence. We can only hope he has some fresh ideas.
The Royal Ballet's final triple bill of the season doesn't contain anything new either. It doesn't need to with a programme this hot. Four years on from its premiere, Wayne McGregor's Chroma is still a thrilling prospect: otherworldly, visceral, knockout sexy. It's so good, the rest of the show (fine Christopher Wheeldon, scintillating Balanchine) is almost superfluous. See it while you still have the chance.
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