Oh My Goddess, Sadler's Wells, London

Clark returns, briefly and quietly
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Michael Clark has an eager audience. They cheer before the performance, murmur at the first sight of their hero, go happily wild at the end. This is the art/fashion crowd Clark brought to dance in the 1980s, still loyal despite the stops and starts of his erratic career.

They have been well rewarded lately. After a decade of comebacks and vanishing acts, Clark has been working consistently, taking commissions from the Ballet Boyz and Mikhail Baryshnikov, building up his own show.

He is back, but he has changed. Up to the 1990s, when I started watching him, Clark's shows were held together by his own radiant dancing. Whatever he wore, whatever he did, he looked glowingly beautiful. At 40, he is still elegant, but you can take your eyes off him. His appearances are brief and quiet. He no longer takes over the stage.

That shifts attention on to Clark's dancers. Oh My Goddess has a company of eight, Clark's largest to date. They are all strong and stylish. This choreography is strict about line and balance, about clean execution. Details of footwork are vital, and they're projected well. Kate Coyne, a Clark regular, stands out: tall, grand and serene in all circumstances.

They all have to rise above the costumes. Design has always been important to Clark, with collaborations with designers from Leigh Bowery (his splashy 1980s days) to Hussein Chalayan (minimalist 1990s). This time the clothes, by Clark, Shelley Fox and Stevie Stewart, are plain and peculiar. Black leotards with red or white slashes at the crotch; nude-effect tights with leather skirts or puff jackets. Not flattering.

Several of these dances were on Clark's experimental bill at the Barbican earlier this year. They are a lot stronger now. Sequences are more clearly linked, aimed more directly at the audience. It no longer looks like a work in progress.

Clark is a meticulous choreographer. These pieces are minimalist: precise movement, and not much of it. The dancing in "Satie Studs" is a series of poses. Movement is stripped down to the turn of a wrist, the arch of a foot. These dancers look austere even in head- or shoulder-stands.

Some of the studies are solos, some are unison duets. They always look like solos. Performances are exact and withdrawn, dancers isolated by their own strictness. That nuts-and-bolts approach is how Clark approaches his music, too. He pays very close attention moment by moment, tracking small changes rather than larger shapes.

The music is played live by Piano Circus, giving the dance a stupendous backdrop of four grand pianos. Four pianos for these solo studies seems profligate until the last dance, played in unison by all four and danced by the full cast.

Clark's dry precision goes rather well with Satie. It is strange to see the same academic severity set to growling rock guitar or bouncy synthesiser. Oh My Goddess is danced to several PJ Harvey numbers. The songs are all rage and howling, with chugging guitars and heavy bass. Clark's dances are crisp, often fast, dazzlingly clear. His dancers go flat out, but they do not ever let go.

The Harvey numbers do encourage Clark to try other things, coming close to acting out her words. "I Think I'm a Mother" has Clark on the floor grinding his pelvis. In "M-Bike" one dancer climbs on to another's shoulders, into the seat of the bike, while two more swing their arms to make wheels. The tone does not change. The dancers may fall to the floor, writhing and heaving, but they are never earthy.

Even 1980s reminiscence comes out exact and cool. "Dreams" puts everyone in asymmetrical black wigs, New Romantic hair to match the song by The Human League. Then they dance fast, with characteristic rigour and the same containment. Clark will tell jokes with wigs; steps are no laughing matter.

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