Michael Clark Company Review by Franz Knupfer
Putting the Icon in Iconoclast
Michael Clark has been called an iconoclast of British dance, but when it comes to rock music, he’s the opposite. What’s an iconoclast, anyway? In the literal sense, it’s a person that destroys objects of veneration, yet Clark venerates both dance and the rock music that inspires his work, so it might be more accurate to call him iconic instead.
Nowhere is this more evident than during the second act of Clark’s “come, been and gone,” when the background shows a video of David Bowie singing “Heroes” as the performers gyrate and pirouette before him. “Heroes” is about being king and queen for a day; in that way, it builds on established British conventions instead of overturning them.
In the same way, Clark builds on elements of modern dance instead of taking them down. There are occasional moments spent in pointe along with spirals and twists and other essential building blocks of modern dance, but what makes Clark’s work interesting is how he combines these movements in his own unique formula.
And by formula, I don’t mean formulaic; Clark’s work is more like a complex mathematical equation. The dancers’ movements are somehow both fluid and robotic, energetic and restrained. As the title “come, been and gone” suggests, the passage of time is a recurrent theme. I often had the feeling that the dancers were like clocks marking the minutes and the hours. One recurring motif was a kind of yogic balance pose with one leg and arm outstretched; the dancers would slowly rotate, once again evoking time’s movement.
“Swamp,” the first act, is set to music that is both droning and haunting, but the second and third (unnamed) acts are set to the music of David Bowie, Lou Reed and other rockers. A solo set to Reed’s “Heroin” was one of many highlights; a dancer wearing an outfit covered in syringes gyrates and flops on the stage, perfectly mimicking both the feel of the song and (I imagine) the effects of the drug. The outfits throughout the performance were both androgynous and colorful, evoking not just David Bowie but an entire generation of rockers that have subverted gender norms.
Clark makes several cameos, perhaps with the intention of being meta; while his dancers whirl around in sleek outfits, he flops or walks across the stage in his gym shorts. Clark’s interest in Dada is obvious in these cameos; is this meant to be dance or not? Is this a performance or a rehearsal? And why is he slouching on a device that looks like a geriatric toilet? Apparently, he’s “come, been and gone.” I can’t help but think of Lou Reed, who died last year. He’s long finished rushing on his run.
The third act is in many ways the strongest, particularly when the company is working in tandem to propulsive David Bowie songs. The company is small, just six dancers, and yet it never feels that way. Clark often has the performers performing their own unique and hyperkinetic movements, but all the pieces come together perfectly. In this way, they’re like a well-rehearsed rock band—there’s order in the chaos and all the instruments come together in a functioning whole.
Rock stars have always prided themselves on being iconoclasts, and Clark does, too. And yet the best performers and artists don’t just rebel against established icons—they become iconic themselves. The work becomes more about the rebel and less about the rebellion, and as Clark shows in “come, been and gone,” there’s nothing wrong with that.