The Stravinsky Project

Choreographed by Michael Clark
Music by Igor Stravinsky
Michael Clark Company Barbican Theatre
(2007)

Production photo

This is the culmination of choreographer Michael Clark's work over the past three years working to a commission from the Barbican, where the company is now resident. It consists of three ballets danced to the music by Igor Stravinsky previously used for Apollon Musagète, Rite of Spring and Les Noces which Clark names O, Mmm (originally a jokey acronym for Michael's Modern Masterpiece) and I Do. The first two are reworkings of earlier ballets and the third entirely new.

The punk prologue and the pregnant earth mother of last year's version of Mmm have gone and there is little here to remind one of the provocative and outrageous indulgences that earned him the younger Clark the title 'bad boy of British ballet'. It is true that there are a couple of tongue-in-cheek costumes that have bodices fashioned like lavatory pan, their seats as collars and lids as a sort of hat or halo, but even these back references then become so much a part of the shape of his movement that they are absorbed into the dance. This is Clarke at his most classical, though all save the Bride in I Do dance bare-footed and it largely omits the jumps and lifts of airborne classical choreography and is basically ground centred dance. It is also Clarke at his best. This is a magical evening with choreography of amazing musicality danced by a company of talent, who are beautifully matched to his style.

In O, Clark has jettisoned ancient narrative: though there are hints of Apollo and his Muses if you want to see them, the god and his lyre have gone along with the original scenario. This is Clark's direct response to the music, a particular favourite of mine, which he matches with beautifully flowing and often beguilingly slow dance. The setting, designed by Clark and Stephen Scott, places a tall transparent box centre stage in the sides of which the dancers are reflected, a single male dancer then appearing within it, multiplied by its four faces, before it opens up to become a mirrored screen, so that reflected and sometimes distorted bodies become part of the choreography. Towards the end of the piece the screen is hidden by a black cloth which rises to reveal a row of panels which open and close to provide entrances - a sly reference to the automatic doors of the Barbican auditorium perhaps? - then revolve to become another wall of mirrors, these portals themselves part of the choreography. Often Clark presents the dancers to us like athletes in a classical frieze as though he is influenced by here Nijinsky's choreographic experiments.

Mmm continues on the same set. It is given a hieratic quality by the shiny leather-look skirts of both male and female dancers who also all wear small pink skull-caps and something glittering on their noses. There are no incantatory circle dances and instead of an orgiastic sacrificial ritual this is rather a joyful celebration of the coming of Spring. Now small jumps and hops momentarily allow the dances to be airborne and there is even a lift, though with the male dancer grounded on his knees. There is a somewhat threatening female figure in purple but the final female dancer no longer seems a sacrificial victim. The two piano version of the score is used which, while having the vigour of the composition, keep it from being completely overwhelming, and perhaps that influences this more benign interpretation of the music.

I Do places the chorus on the stage in black, their warm faces the only décor other than the similarly lit floor cloth which now forma s cross shape. It opens with the Bride emerging, in toe shoes and en pointe, from a huge Russian doll, the kind that fit inside each other. This becomes a totally joyous work, the syncopated rhythms energetically celebrated. I can't think of a happier way of having a wedding, though I might balk at the final wedding dress, a knitted version of a babushka doll modelled on a 1965 Yves Saint Laurent creation.

This is a night of choreography that feels as though it will continue to seem fresh-minted whenever it is danced. The music is magnificently played by the Britten Sinfonia, with Philip Moore and Andrew West on piano for Mmm with Daniel Becker and Huw Watkins joining them for I Do and the New London Chamber Choir with soloists Sylvia Clarke, Julian Close, Constance Novis and Gediminas Varna.

A final word for Charles Atlas's lighting. After seeing far too many ballets and modern dance works performed in semi-darkness too low lit to be clearly seen boynd the front rows of the stalls, this is dance lighting as it should be. Atlas understands how to light bodies so that you can see them, to make flesh and faces glow as well as painting light pictures.

Until 10th November at the Barbican Theatre

Reviewer: Howard Loxton