FEATURE MICHAEL CLARK
The enfant terrible of British dance is returning home, his naked
mother in tow, to celebrate his entry into the thirtysomething generation. Allen Robertson talks to rude-kid MICHAEL CLARK about sex, drugs and mirror-balls.
ot everyone can claim to have been a cultural icon at the age of22. Heading his own company. Michael Clark hit the British dance world circa 1984 like a dazzling explosion offireworks. Uniting the threads of street life, pubs and clubs with a sometimes rudely iconoclastic approach to art, his brand of dance revelled in its own anarchy. It was. and to a certain extent still is, a celebratory style that mixed inventive and disciplined movement with what could seem to be a gimmicky sense oftheatre. Clark transgressed conventional boundaries ofchoreography, not to mention ‘good taste‘. Bare bums, dildos, giant hamburgers. explicit sexual monologues and so on were ‘in’, while all the stops were out. Dance was defiantly transformed into a three-ring circus ofcampy gender-bending humour pummelled out to loud retro-rock from the likes of Sex Pistols and The Fall.
Clark‘s outrageous antics earned him instant celebrity status. This Aberdeen farmer's son became a media darling. He
was as hot as Prince and as much of a sex symbol as Madonna. appearing on magazine covers, captured by star photographer David Bailey for the pages of Vogue, and profiled on prestigious telly art programmes.
British dance was clearly experiencing something new: an unexpected — and. in some circles. unwanted -— burst ofenergy. The critical establishment was often in despair. blinkered by Clark‘s obvious gifts as a classical dancer. As a teenager he‘d studied at, and eventually defected from, the Royal Ballet‘s school. Cries of profligacy and wasted talent were legion.
Yet audiences flocked to Clark's eccentric. giddily indulgent shows. Younger fans screamed and hooted their approval. He began collecting an ever-expanding entourage of friends and groupies. a etiterie that followed him round the country and eventually got into the act themselves. Meanwhile. commissions poured in from Scottish Ballet. English National Ballet. Rambert Dance Company (one of Clark‘s
old stamping grounds), Paris Opera Ballet, the Holland and Edinburgh Festivals and others.
But no enfant terrible is immune to burn-out. The vast amount of hype and attention heaped on Clark throughout the 805 led to a complicated period of creative fatigue, personal reassessment and dependency on drugs and alcohol. He was never hooked, he says, at least not seriously enough to be frightened. ‘It had the desired effect,‘ he says. ’it frightened certain people away and out of my life. I do believe that part of my job as an artist is to report from the outer limits. I mean, I‘m not goingto wag my finger and tell other people not to drink or do drugs.‘
Clark may have lowered his UK profile since the last full-length company show in 1988. but he‘s hardly been inactive. There have been ‘greatest hits’ tours ofJapan and Brazil. Offstage and on, he's formed a partnership with American dancer- choreographer Stephen Petronio that seems to have grounded him without dulling his desire to provoke as he entertains.
Clark‘s most recent and widest public exposure was the non-speaking part of Caliban in Prospero's Books, filmmaker Peter Greenaway‘s meditation on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. He speaks coolly abouttheir collaboration. ‘Peter doesn‘t interest me much. He may seem to be cold to make people think he’s cerebral. but I think it‘s possible to have balls and brains.‘
Modern Masterpiece, Clark’s latest opus, is something ofa UK comeback. More than any previous production. he regards it as still something ofa work-in-progress. Igor Stravinsky‘s groundbreaking 1913 score, The Rite ofSpring is the springboard for a scaled-down but unmistakably Clarkian take on the relation between art and sacrifice, and the power (rather than the weakness) ofsubmission. ‘One ofthe themes ofthe piece is the idea that winter can‘t turn to spring without dance taking place,” he says. ‘That‘s quite foreign to us, the idea that dance might be necessary.’
Whether or not some ofthe show’s non-dance eleinents are strictly necessary — the participation ofthe abundantly imaginative and plain abundant costumier Leigh Bowery and Clark’s bare-breasted, 60-year-old mum, or his own stint ofsinging
‘I think it’s possible to have balls and brains.’
while clad as a kind of human mirror-ball — is a matter ofdebate. Some exquisite, even thrilling dance passages attest to a choreographic maturity that bodes well as Clark enters his fourth decade — the opening night coincides with his 30th birthday.
‘Right now I‘m interested in slowing things down,’ the ageing wunderkind explains, ‘in finding the right thing, the essence, rather than several things that may or may not add up to something.‘
Modern Masterpiece. Tramway, Glasgow, Tue 2—Sut 6 June.
12 The List 22 May — 4 June 1992