Michael Clark, Barbican, London

Michael Clark is showing his latest choreographies at the Barbican. The programme is short – some 80 minutes with an interval – its two parts intriguingly reflective of his career to date. The first section is played to some vocal nougat by 1980s indie rockers Scritti Politti and proposes eight dancers on a handsomely lit stage, their dark blue costumes cut to reveal exact physical shapes which Clark disposes in austere formations.

From these first alphabetical lines the choreography gathers a linear momentum until a final passage that is surely one of the best, most mature things Clark has made. It seems a summation of everything that he has understood about danced classicism, about the formal dignities of placing moving or static bodies on a stage. I thought it – and doubted my own thoughts at once – not too unlike La Bayadère’s Shades for a new age, so ringingly clear is its imagery. Then the interval. And then Clark back to the 1980s and rock’s brutish din, disjunct posturing and crass showing off.

The performers of the electro-pop group Relaxed Muscle, led by Jarvis Cocker, are there, hidden at first, and then revealed in all their treble-fortissimo charm to us. There, too, Clark’s dancers in flame-coloured leotards, and Clark’s muse recalling those in-yer-face performances of earlier and more stoned years. Noise, of course. Dancers disposed in Clark’s short-breathed exercise of their talents, aided and abetted by small stools. Ferocious vocalising and drumming and guitar crescendi, much to the audience’s delight. Words, messages – sometimes upside-down and backwards – projected on the set. As if this mattered. Dangerous decibels. An air of bravado, acceptable from the fascinating dancer the young Clark was, but rather harder to take from the mature figure who momentarily appeared in a low-slung chiton as the evening began.

This is Clark making dances as he did a couple of decades ago, disjecta membra of movement without the wild-boy allure of his own dancing. I thought it a retreat from today, a failed creative face-lift, a denial of the mature talent that had given us the eloquent opening section of the evening.


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