Michael Clark Company: ‘To a Simple, Rock ’n’ Roll… Song’ review

Dance, Modern
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Maverick choreographer Michael Clark pays homage to Patti Smith and David Bowie in his latest show

Michael Clark’s mash-up of post-punk and ballet – all bare bums, The Fall and Leigh Bowery – certainly had shock value in the 1980s and 1990s. Now in his period of late maturity, the rigorous precision of Clark’s choreography is what’s most striking.

His muses are still the same, though. This triple bill, constructed as a celebration of musical and choreographic inspirations, pays homage to Patti Smith and David Bowie, whose work Clark has used throughout his career.

But first up is ‘Satie Studs/Ogives Composite’, which melds piano works by the avant-garde French composer Erik Satie. It’s an uncompromising soundtrack and Clark’s response is an austere unpicking of ballet technique. His barefoot dancers, in skintight black-and-white unitards, move with marionette-like exactitude through slow, hugely demanding classical poses, extensions and balances, which slowly evolve into more complex patterns and pairings. Softening touches, such as one curled dancer being carried off by her thighs, are few and far between – but this minimalism proves icily enticing.  

For the Patti Smith segment, ‘Land’, the outfits include flared PVC leggings, and the backdrop is Charles Atlas’s video installation ‘Painting by Numbers’ – a tumbling shower of white numerals. Clark’s razor-sharp lines make an intriguing counterpoint to Smith’s grungily chaotic, urgent poetry. His dancers’ swift flips, switchblade legs and sombre entanglements include playful literal interpretations of song lines – truly elegantly wasted, particularly the enchanting Oxana Panchenko.

Lastly, ‘My Mother, My Dog and Clowns!’ is Clark’s tribute to Bowie. Dancers in silver bodysuits glimmer and seethe like anxious spacemen against a darkened background as Bowie’s valedictory ‘Blackstar’ plays. The music switches to ‘Aladdin Sane’, and they ramp up the combative air, like robots with their circuitry gone awry, hips grinding, heads rolling. One totters blindfolded and on pointe. The fingerclicking at the end is a slyly humorous last gesture.

It’s all over in a flash – there’s only about 50 minutes of dance in the programme – but Clark’s eight dancers, particularly Panchenko and the towering Harry Alexander, leave a lasting impression.

By: Siobhan Murphy



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