Despite the erections and the vomiting, there’s a dance in there somewhere. Martin Creed might be inclined to agree. The British artist/musician might also be inclined to tell you to fuck off, as he supposedly does in Work No. 1020 (Ballet), which he will restage at the Museum of Contemporary Art on November 15 and 16 as part of his yearlong residency there. Known for his quirkiness and brash sensibility, Creed is no stranger to controversy. In a 2010 interview with The Observer, he said in reference to art, “I think that the best things get under people’s skin.” So does he. In 2001, he won the Turner Prize—the U.K.’s most prestigious visual-art award—for Work No. 227 (The Lights Going On and Off). The piece consisted of an empty room with a sporadically illuminating lightbulb.
In 1020, Creed takes his first stab at choreography. On its surface, the movement is a surefire “what the hell?” moment: Five dancers are limited to the five basic positions of classical ballet, an intentionally restrictive practice. Combine that with live music from Creed’s band and strategically placed video clips (including the boners and the puking). One and two and three, goes the beat. First position, second position, fifth position go the feet. Up and down goes the penis to ascending and descending musical scales.
“People come up to you and say, ‘This is outrageous,’ ” says Delphine Gaborit, one of Creed’s dancers. (The media-shy Creed wasn’t available for an interview.) “That’s part of working with Martin. People just get so annoyed with it, people who don’t want to look past first, second, third, fourth, fifth [positions].”
The 32-year-old, who describes Creed as a meticulous craftsman, recalls a pianist who was part of the initial collaboration who “didn’t really get it. The person didn’t come back, and I thought, This is important. This isn’t just about doing what he’s asking us to do. If we’re going to stick with it, we have to think beyond it.”
To think beyond it, Creed outlined his vision to the cast: “We had a talk about art and why [Creed] wants to do what he does,” says Gaborit, enthusing over Creed and the intentions of 1020, a far cry from her classical-dance roots. “The woman who is sick onstage is the pure expression of the self. [Being sick] is one possible way, or shitting or vomiting. These are moments when you have to let go and be utterly vulnerable.”
Lorena Randi, Creed’s original collaborator in 2009, remembers the first time she was in the studio with him. When developing the movement, Randi says Creed asked what the “wiggle” was. “I told him that I didn’t wiggle,” she says. “That’s called a pivot.”
The work’s creation brought out Randi’s inner “anorak,” the 37-year-old Briton says—or “nerd” if you hail from the States. When asked how other dancers respond to the piece, Randi says it’s typically a 50-50 split between those who like it and those who don’t; the simplicity is open for interpretation.
“It’s a complete mindfuck, and I kind of enjoy that aspect of it,” she says. “For a lot of dancers it just reminds them of training, and it makes them anxious. You can almost see the 11-year-old at the Royal Ballet going, ‘Don’t make me do this again.’ ”
Work No. 1020 (Ballet) plays November 15 and 16 at 7:30pm at the Museum of Contemporary Art.