Still dancing at the cutting edge

The dance world's enfant terrible returns, but does Michael Clark still have the power to shock?

Nadine Meisner
Thursday 09 January 2014 03:41
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My, how time flies. The 20 years since Michael Clark first began to stimulate and irritate us in equal measure have gone by in a flash. Back then, he was a Royal Ballet School renegade, mixing a potent cocktail of styles. He took his Cecchetti ballet training, shook it up with contemporary dance, added a twist of his boyhood Scottish dancing, and finished it off with a large slug of the clubby, punk culture common to friends such as the late Leigh Bowery (who designed and performed in his shows).

He seemed like a fresh talent, an excitingly pure-lined performer and fluent choreographer, able to give staid theatre-dance a street-cred edge, and hence appeal to a wider, younger audience. Because of that, his juvenile provocations were indulged. But Clark never made it big internationally, although for a while it looked as though he might, receiving choreographic commissions from the Paris Opera Ballet, English National Ballet and the Royal Ballet.

He threw it away for a love affair with heroin, spending a decade in the wilderness. Rehabilitated, he returned in 1998 with current/SEE, and now embarks on a one-off venture, Would, Should, Can, Did, which will be the penultimate event in the Barbican's Only Connect genre-bending season.

Perhaps because of his long absence, his early iconoclastic image remains. Even now, as he reaches his 41st birthday, journalists call him an enfant terrible. We are stuck in the past, seemingly – but is Clark? current/SEE had marked a rediscovery of classical fundamentals, but with Before and After: the Fall, a 2001 reworking of his earliest work, created in collaboration with the artist Sarah Lucas, he was back to old, subversive form, annoying some and amusing others.

There is nothing sadder than an ageing rebel, kicking against sexual propriety to shock an older generation that is rapidly becoming his own. Before and After: the Fall avoided that trap by packaging its taboo theme in outrageous, self-deprecating humour. How will Would, Should, Can, Did look?

Billed as seven artistic experiments, it brings together his usual tribe of friends and collaborators: Lucas, Susan Stenger (whose group, Big Bottom, provided the heavy rock music for current/SEE), Cerith Wyn Evans, an installation artist and film-maker who has worked with Clark from the beginning, and the fashion designer Hussein Chalayan. Others, announced as "very special guests" are also promised, as well as four dancers besides Clark himself.

Among the seven short pieces will be solos for Clark; an ensemble piece called Heroes, based on Lucas's artworks; and Satie Studs, already, tantalisingly, glimpsed in an extract for the recent programme by George Piper Dances. Would, Should, Can, Did is therefore a dance smorgasbord which will hopefully keep Clark groupies happy until his next venture at Sadler's Wells this autumn.

Barbican Hall, Silk Street, London EC2 (020-7638 8891; www.barbican.org.uk) tomorrow, 8pm

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