MICHAEL CLARK FEATURE
The enfant terrible of modern dance is back. He’s not such an enfant and no longer so terrible, but he still sure can dance. Mark Fisher meets MICHAEL CLARK.
haircut like Sinead O’Connor. Lips worthy of Sandra Bernhard. And an outsize safety-pin through the right ear that says punk did happen and l was there. On his ring ﬁnger a plaster. Beneath it, a tattoo dedicated to his sometime lover Michael Petronio. The little ﬁnger on his left hand has an inordinately long nail. It’s the details that you notice.
At the box ofﬁce of the Newcastle Playhouse they are selling ‘massive Michael Clark posters’. That’s signiﬁcant. You can’t buy massive Royal Ballet posters or massive Siobhan Davies posters. But Michael Clark operates on another level, his work still has
a pint’. The Herald guessed that it’d been a long time since he’d had a ‘good, square meal’, but the evidence points to the contrary. ‘People always comment on the smoking, they’re surprised that dancers smoke,’ he says, his drawl of a voice showing just a trace of his native Aberdeen. a hint of dance-school camp and a touch of pop star slur. ‘And the same about eating, it’s ridiculous.’
Actually what really excites the journalists is the sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll lifestyle that for many years was part of the Clark mystique. The bright young hope of the Royal Ballet School, earmarked as young as thirteen to be Covent Garden’s next star. was the archetypal rebel. He was a shot in the arm to the stagnant world of dance, while shots into his own arm nearly killed him. Even when romance rescued him from the brink, his relationship with the American choreographer Stephen Petronio extended as far as having sex as part of the performance. Getting The Fall to play live
the critics reaching for Clark is coming full circle: on stage for I Am Curious superlatives but it also He is still full of contempt for Orange seems tame by manages to appeal to a much the restricting conventions 0! comparison.
wider audience, and when he goes on tour it’s more like a rock gig. ‘I remember going to see him in Kings Cross and l was very excited by the audience,’ recalls the actor Brian Cox. ‘I assumed it was a dance audience. but I was assured by people in the know that it was a particular audience — an audience who want a certain kind of work.’
A certain kind of work, and also a massive Michael Clark poster.
Lifesize Michael Clark is sitting in the coffee bar of his Newcastle hotel the morning after the ﬁrst night of 0. A companion piece to 1992’s Modern Masterpiece, 0 marks a swing away from the excesses ofearlier work, towards a new sense of order. Not to say it’s an altogether conventional piece. Clark’s concerns may be with the classicism of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. but it doesn’t stop him setting the ﬁrst half of the performance to a high-decibel chunk of Public Image Limited. And it doesn’t stop him including his mother in the company. Not topless as she was last time, in fact curiously bashful on the ﬁrst night, obscured beneath a duvet until the curtain call, but his mother nonetheless. Otherwise, though. it is a more elegant, more restrained Michael Clark we see. Less the man who added toilet seats, giant dildos and footballs to the vocabulary of dance. than the elegiac performer who entrances us in the show’s centrepiece solo in which he is surrounded by mirrors that ensnare him in reﬂections of reﬂections.
As he tucks into his breakfast of yoghurt and cereal, I am reminded of how interviewers always seem to comment on his appetite. Witness The List in 1988: ‘Michael was hungry and the spare ribs were going down a treat’. And then Scotland on Sunday a couple of months ago: ‘He wolfs down half of my pizza and sups
orthodox dance, but the difference is he’s ready to go back in there and tight.
Now, at 32, a more stable Clark is coming full circle. He is still full of contempt for the restricting conventions of orthodox dance, but the difference is he’s ready to go back in there and ﬁght. ‘I know it seems ridiculous that a place like the Royal Ballet School can be in the middle of London and yet still be so isolated. but it really does have that stagnant feel.’ he says. ‘lt’s a cliche that dancers aren’t bright; it’s not that they aren’t bright. it’s just that places like the Royal Ballet School don’t take education seriously — “You don’t need to know about maths. ducky”. l was fortunate in having a very good dance teacher who didn’t emphasise the technical aspect at all. because he knew we’d be doing that anyway. but he was fascinated by the things that l was interested in like punk, which was very unusual in that place. He wanted to hear what records I was listening to.’
It wasn’t long, ofcourse. before the world also began to want to hear what records Michael Clark was listening to. But isn’t it time (well over a decade after he first made his mark) that in honourable punk fashion. the thirtysomething dancer was overthrown by a new generation? “That would be good.’ he says. ‘l’m dying for that to happen. I’m dying to have something to go and see!’
He begins to tell me that in the past the controversial non-dance elements in his work were an ‘admission of failure’ on his part, a way of covering up the fact that he hadn’t developed the more serious side of his choreography as far as he wanted. I ask him if he means gimmicks like the footballs and his naked mother and immediately the artist in him rallies to the defence. Gimmicks! They weren’t gimmicks! ‘Why deny reality from dance.” he says. ‘There’s always going to be that element in my
work. As the dance gets more demanding technically, I want to put something alongside it that is as extreme in its every-dayness. Steve [Petronio] and I took it to an extreme with the Leigh Bowery piece when we had sex beforehand, but as soon as you put that in front of an audience it becomes a performance and you can’t pretend that you’re just doing something that you do every day. But I don’t think that those things will be taken out of the work.’
It is these conflicts of interest that make Clark such an interesting artist. On the one hand he is the supremely gifted dancer, easily capable of tackling the great classical parts and just as capable ofcreating them anew, on the other hand he is the rogue spirit more interested in attempting the things he can’t do than the things he knows he can. In short, it’s no surprise that this latest work springs out of an attraction to the struggle between ordered Apollo and orgiastic Dionysus, a struggle epitomiscd by the fact that some of his most considered choreography is set to the grungey musical barrage of Public Image Limited.
‘l’ve enjoyed working with that kind of music because it does give me a much more open canvas. With Public lmage I wanted to allow things to get slow and I hadn’t been able to do that before. I’d tried but I always ended up dong fast things. It was still hard last night — not to do very much is the hardest thing of all. In the past I’d keep things very short, I was always very conscious of punctuating everything, I’d make a deliberately boring passage which would then make the punch at the end of it stronger. Whereas with this piece we’ve spent a lot of time thinking. A lot of people go into the studio and just move. I suppose the Apollo subject is really about order — those moments of inspiration which are then focused and made into a whole piece.’ Ll Michael Clark '3 0, Edinburgh festival Theatre, Fri 29 July.
0 marks a swlng away from the excesses of earller work,
towards a new sense at order !
The List 2‘) July I I August 1904 7