Swamp / Come, Been and Gone

Michael Clark Company
Barbican Theatre

Simon Williams in Production photo

Michael Clark's return to the dance world was much heralded and praised at the Edinburgh Festival, though he's never really been off the radar. The rehabilitated naughty boy of dance, aged 47, is still playfully subversive, his passions and dance skills imprinted on his DNA.

Richard Alston once commented that Clark's body knew a lot about dance. Born in Aberdeenshire, Clark started dancing at the age of four, Scottish dancing, then progressed to the Royal Ballet School, Ballet Rambert, and by the age of twenty-two had his own company. An individual voice, he fell in love with the London pre-punk and punk scene, succumbed to the drug culture, and still wears the obligatory safety pin in his ear.

Clean now, the memory haunts his dance works. As do Clark's idiosyncratic predilections for toilet ware and hypodermic needles. Tall Kate Coyne in flesh body suit, head to toe, pierced with hypodermics, is a modern day St Sebastian, and Clark does a number with a bidet (I think).

All the elements of his training are manifest in his choreography - classical ballet the permanently etched backbone on to which Rambert, Cunningham, Graham, have been grafted.

His eight-strong troupe, with one exception, are classically trained experienced dancers with form. Powerful technique, incredible extensions, supple torsos, he has chosen wisely and well. Some he has worked with for many years, and they must know his style by instinct now. He certainly puts them through it. And they are sensational.

As part of the Dance Umbrella and Barbican bite09 season, Clark presents Swamp, his recently reworked 1986 piece, which feels freshly minted, and his eagerly awaited Come, Been and Gone set to the 1970s glam punk rock of Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Brian Eno.

Swamp, to Bruce Gilbert and Wire music, lighting design by Charles Atlas, is exciting, the dancing robotic precise. Widgets, cogs in a machine, Fritz Lang Metropolis androids, particles in space, ethereal beings dressed in sleek petrol blue one-piece body costumes by BodyMap, with black panda eyes, but there's a lovely classical opening développé en avant into attitude derrière, arms in fourth, that is so pure in its balletic simplicity.

Duets, counter tensions, streamlined meticulousness, a well-oiled machine to mechanical sound. The music crescendos, the cacophony increases, the whole splinters into individual parts, which spin faster, leap and turn, the intensity overpowering. The dancers never lose focus or control. Beautiful feet and arms.

A hard act to follow, but follow it he does with Come, Been and Gone. The danger, of course, is that the iconic music, by Bowie especially, will overpower the dance. And in Heroes, which has a young androgynous Bowie (in 1977) backlit like a star in the firmament, projected on to the backcloth, the dancers don't stand a chance. Against that blinding star power, they might just as well be superior Pan's People (remember them?). The dancers, in black bodies and tiny leather jackets in imitation, are sucked into his vortex.

Clark wanders through the dance piece with a tambourine collar necklace, then a cricket bat under his arm, next in acid yellow baggy shorts and hoodie he dances a short solo. Surreal, winsome, or plain eccentric? But, the audience (of all ages) love it, him, the music, Atlas's lighting design, Stevie Stewart's striking costumes.

The music rocks; the dancers rock. Liquid-red bodies, blinding sunspots, dazzle with their virtuosity and sensual allure. Visual dynamite. We should have been rocking in the aisles - it was a great gig.

The Barbican has renewed its contract with Clark as Artistic Associate for a further three years, and this production will return there in June as part of bite10

Till 7 November 2009

Vera also reviewed the revival of this programme in 2010

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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