th

Part Two: New Work
Michael Clark Company
Tate Modern Turbine Hall
(2011)

th production photo

Michael Clark's Part II: New Work entitled th (Turbine Hall?) has a déjà-vu quality in its recycling of old numbers, albeit in a new setting but still in thrall to David Bowie's music and possibly image.

Lit by Charles Atlas, costumes designed by Stevie Stewart and himself, sound design by Martyn Ware and Andy Pink, but no biographies of anyone democratic or forgetful?

Part I: Residency was Michael Clark's seven-week residency at the Tate Modern last year - an experiment with scale and number, one presumes, and an interplay with art and fashion, with which Clark has always had an intense affinity.

A free public showing of this work-in-progress with his company and a crowd of seventy five - I counted about sixty tonight - non-professional dancers took place last August. The non-professionals have had a year of workshops to turn them into a drilled May Day parade of synchronised movers - a triumph of the will over body, memory, rhythm, and shape.

Clark has done a wonderful job there, impishly dressing them in toga draped black bath towels held together with safety pins over black undies. Nearly fifty now he still sports a nappy pin in his ear, true to his 'bad boy' punk era days.

And indeed there is a retro feeling to the whole production, interacting with the illusive mystery of the art held in that huge grey Modern Art cathedral, the high-vaulted Turbine Hall, from which Ai Wei Wei's sunflower seeds have been swept away, making room for a tuning fork shaped space, an elongated dance studio floor painted in black and white optical stripes.

Seated spectators - this is not a promenade performance as with the Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown programmes seen here in the recent past - have to turn their heads from side to side as in a tennis match (unless seated under the sound and lighting desk at the far end - I wish I'd tried that perspective).

One sees what one chooses, wherever the eye is drawn, be it to the dancers on the floor, or as distant hieroglyphics on the bridge, or at the barre at the far side. But, when the David Bowie video plays, he in Marcel Marceau mode, it is difficult to take one's eyes off the master chameleon showman.

In sixties Op Art / Pop Art sleek unitards, black and white in the first half, space ship black and silver in the second, giving way to shimmering sunshine wine gum colours in the later numbers, Clark's thirteen dancers weave in and out of the amateurs, then capture and command the space for themselves.

The amateurs in their homemade dressing up togs are Morlocks to these well-turned-out elegant Eloi. Eyes focused, feet in perfect position, toes perfectly pointed, classical training underpinning the sculptural choreography, arms tightly robotically controlled, subservient to the musical narrative fantasies of Bowie, Pulp, and Kraftwerk.

Some of the later numbers are drawn from Clark's come, been and gone done at the Barbican in 2009 and 2010. Still looking back, still fine-tuning stuck in the groove, is he still groovy? Seems so. Still improvising, like a free form jazz musician.

A brief solo dressed in casual grey, then in a grey hoodie lurking in the shadows of the concrete pillars, toying with a mirrored stool, I wonder how many recognised him, the playful Peter Pan, doing what he likes, beholden to no one, just the past maybe?

Still lovingly loyal to the same music, and it is the music, the driving force made manifest, that converts the empirical emptiness of the Turbine Hall into its own echo chamber, a fashionable basilica for the fashionista crowd and Clark's steadfast followers.

Clark, now you see him now you don't, appears / disappears amongst the black clad crowd in the grand finale - the leader of the pack, or the head monk? No longer the enfant terrible, but the alchemist himself.

Till 12th June 2011

Reviewer: Vera Liber