Michael Clark Company, Playhouse, Edinburgh
Despite the loud music and light nudity, Clark's company fails to launch
Sunday 06 September 2009
Often engaging, though ultimately not totally satisfying, Michael Clark's latest creation isn't the much vaunted new event trumpeted in all of his company's pre-production publicity. Instead, it turns out to be more of a trawl through his personal archives.
So, do we accept this as an expression of Clark's own distinctive style or do we denigrate what we sat through at the Edinburgh International Festival last weekend as nothing more than a recycling of things we have already seen time and again?
It boils down to a question of context versus cannibalism. In this instance I think Clark has been a bit too bald with some of his self-plagiarisms. Even so, most of what is on view is undeniably impressive and viscerally compelling.
The first half of this bill is devoted to a rendition of Swamp, without question Clark's finest creation. Its stately "back to basics" building blocks of movement have a decisive, sustained clarity which has often proved elusive, or even unwanted, in Clark's other, generally much more raucous choreography.
Swamp features eight dancers who work mainly as four couples, but who are also repeatedly welded together into a single quasi-militaristic ensemble that strides across the stage with the compelling assurance of imminent world domination. It is guaranteed to send chills up your spine.
The dancers are sensational. It has been several years since Clark has been able to assemble a company of this calibre. Indeed, his own troupe has never before been strong enough to take on Swamp. He created it in 1986 for Rambert Dance Company, where he had made his first professional appearances as a teenager.
There's a caveat posted up all over the theatre: "Tonight's performance contains very loud music and partial nudity". The reality of this warning roars into sometimes excruciating play during the show's second half. Titled come, been and gone it opens with a couple of tracks from The Velvet Underground followed by an Iggy Pop number before launching into a sequence of seven songs from David Bowie. Some of this helter-skelter abandon is so loud that you can't see the movement due to the noise. Despite the total dominance of these blistering walls of sound, Clark really is more than a heavy metal curio.
There are dizzy contradictions on view in a solo performed to Lou Reed's "Heroin". It features a single dancer (Kate Coyne) shrouded in an anonymous balaclava-hooded flesh-coloured outfit that bristles all over with syringes. This turns out to be a knowing confessional from Clark who spent several years lost in the wilderness of addiction. Reed's lyrics and Clark's choreography copulate in a painful "there but for the grace of..." fusion.
Later, Bowie becomes a larger than life MTV icon performing "Heroes" above and behind the dancers. It's an unfair advantage and until the video fades away near the end of the tune, it is all but impossible to focus on the choreography.
Clark, who was born in 1962, makes a couple of unannounced appearances during this second half. He doesn't push himself to recapture his own former glories. In fact, given a geeky outfit that looks like a baggy Edwardian bathing costume and a wig that no one but a used car salesman would ever contemplate wearing, he seems to be doing the exact opposite. He's poking cartoon fun at his past status as a transgressive angel who was capable of some of the most dazzling dancing the world ever saw.
The mammoth, barn-like Edinburgh Playhouse was not the ideal venue for this production. It will be interesting to see how much better this looks when it arrives at the Barbican in London in late October, as part of a lengthy international tour.
PS: The "partial nudity" turned out to be a brief, literally cheeky sashay for two blokes and a gal bumping their bums to a calliope-like end-of-the-pier tune. It proves far too innocent to offend anyone. It's my guess that even my grandmother wouldn't have been able to suppress a smile.
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