Michael Clark Company: The Stravinsky Project, Barbican, London

All Rite on the night? Not quite
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The Independent Culture

In I Do, Michael Clark's new version of the Stravinsky ballet Les Noces, the music looms over the choreography. The bold, plain set design, by Clark and Steven Scott, puts the chorus on both sides of the stage. Between the two groups, a long catwalk pushes away into backstage darkness.

Everything is literally framed by the singing. While this heightens the effect of the extraordinary score, with its churning, chanted rhythms, it also overshadows Clark's choreography.

I Do is the culmination of Clark's Stravinsky Project, a three-year collaboration with the Barbican. In one sense, it sees the unpredictable Clark back on track. One of the finest dancers of his generation, Clark made his name in the 1980s with a series of splashy punk spectacles. The mix included wild theatricality, bared buttocks and Clark's own gift for movement, and won him an ardent, loyal fanbase. Heroin addiction and a series of comebacks followed.

With the Stravinsky Project, Clark has gone some way past a comeback, building a long-term programme of new and revised works. He brought back his versions of Apollo – under the title O – and The Rite of Spring, renamed Mmm..., framing them with dances to punk music.

Those non-Stravinsky dances have been the strongest element of this Project. The dancers stalked through their linear poses, lucid and cool. For this last programme, Clark puts all three Stravinsky works together.

The new I Do is the best of them. Clark cuts between clear, abstract dancing and some quirky appearances for the bride and groom. The bride makes her first appearance out of a Russian doll, her shoulders wrapped in a bobbly knitted shawl. By the time she and her groom are united, standing side by side in the distance, the shawl has grown to something like a woolly mummy-case, encasing her completely. It's odd enough to be striking.

The rest of the cast wear beige body-tights, patterned with shiny markings. Crossed lines around their calves echo the peasant costumes for the first version of this ballet, choreographed by Nijinska in 1923. Throughout the Project, Clark has been echoing and reinventing the past, well aware of other versions of these scores.

He keeps the rest of the cast moving through stark poses. His care for line, for clean articulation, gives I Do most of its force: there's some of the intent of the earlier punk dances. What it lacks is cumulative power. As Stravinsky's rhythms build and build, Clark breaks off and starts again.

One sequence starts with women lying at their partners' feet. Pulling them upright, the men fold down to the floor: the whole couple are shifted through 90 degrees. There's a long-limbed precision to that tilt, a lancing strength to the way the women finish the phrase.

Clark has fine dancers, but performances are variable. In that 90-degree tilt, some of these couples swing coolly from one pose to the next; others make a few adjustments on the way. The music rings out powerfully, performed by the Britten Sinfonia and the New London Chamber Choir conducted by Jurjen Hempel.

The performance of O is strangely pallid. Clark responds to Stravinsky's stripped-down music with plainer dancing – you have to wait for Mmm... for the toilet-seat headdresses and Hitler-moustached heroines. Minimalist is one thing, but bland is another. In this revival of O, Clark casts Ashley Chen in his own old role. As a star with the Merce Cunningham company, Chen was a dancer of explosive force. Here, he's reduced to correctness. Mmm..., danced to an oddly tinkly piano version of The Rite of Spring, has more bite.

To 10 November (0845 120 7550)

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