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Flash Review 1, 10-7: Here Comes the Mirror Man
At the Altar with Michael Clark

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2003 Josephine Leask

LONDON -- After several years in the wilderness (rehab, illness, personal crisis), the anarchic but saintly-looking Michael Clark returned to the stage this season, and the crowds were there to welcome him and his company last week at Sadler's Wells. Fans from the music and visual art worlds -- which have always featured large in Clark's work -- as well as numerous personal friends swelled the usually modest dance audience. Maybe the attitude has been dropped, maybe the movement is softer and the costumes less outrageous, but the Clark characteristics were still there in "Oh My Goddess," seen October 1 as the opening program of Dance Umbrella.

Clark was famous in the '80s for his use of punk rock music, his design collaborations with the way-out art avant-garde, his desire to shock, an obsession with sex and his exquisite dancing. Whatever he was into at the time seemed to appear on stage. What was fascinating in those days was that however outrageous his performances were (we're talking putting his sexagenarian mother naked on stage) and however head-splittingly loud the music was, the harshest critic would melt at the sight of the beautiful Clark dancing effortlessly and perfectly the technique of his Royal Ballet and Ballet Rambert background.

Clark's work is very music-dominated and he wants his audience to enjoy the music he likes. Short dances are performed to single tracks of music in an accessible, often humorous way. In the first half, the sounds of T. Rex and The Human League were followed by several sober and melancholic studies by Satie, played live by four pianists. The second half included tracks by PJ Harvey, the Sex Pistols and Can, the '70s-era German avant-garde rock band which founded 'Krautrock.' This last was an interesting choice for Clark, who really focused our attention on the band by screening a rare 1972 performance during the interval, much to the delight of the music fans. Although maybe he was just trying to pad out his material, which did look a bit scanty.

The eight strong dancers in Clark's new company are, as with his past companies, unfazed by the volume of the music and indeed the costumes, even if they seem toned down in "Oh My Goddess." The flamboyant punk fashion victim, art tart look of previous work is replaced by the black gothic look of the late '80s but there is still a rippling undercurrent of sex and gender mayhem. Boys and girls cross dress, a female dancer wears men's underwear complete with prosthetic penis, buttocks peep out, erogenous zones are highlighted and sometimes the performers look just downright silly. Clark himself makes brief cameo appearances dressed unremarkably, first in a dowdy shell suit, then in black vaguely punky attire, more jaded but definitely still seamlessly in command of his movement.

Just as Clark once celebrated the glamorous anarchy of the '80s, in "Oh My Goddess" he seems to commemorate the darker, drearier side of the epoch. The program notes for the piece include blown-up photographs of unattractive jeering crowds at pop concerts and football matches. From the monotonous tones of The Human League to the raucous angry hurting voice of PJ Harvey, the impression Clark leaves us with is ultimately depressing, one of burnt-out lives and empty dreams. While on the one hand this work is frivolous and enjoyable for its music and some of the dancing, it is nevertheless as empty of depth or meaning as much of the consumer culture that we live in.

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