Michael Clark Company
All Three at Once
London, Barbican Theatre
22 November 2013
They say of designer Paul Smith that his style is ‘classic with a twist’ and the same might often be said of Michael Clark – classical (ballet) steps with a twist or as likely as not a whole bloody corkscrew. But there is always classicism in there and it’s what clever stunts he does with it that keeps me coming back time and time again.
What also keeps me coming back is that he ploughs his own modernist furrow – not for him are the tightly-cropped shorts and bare chested grapplings that seems so ‘in’. No, you get dance as if from another planet, with strange, fun elements, good lighting, interesting contemporary music and often sleek all-in-one costumes. But not every time – this year’s All Three at Once bill started with the company (this year 3 women, 3 men) all in navy blue gymslips.
To the soothing harmony vocals of Scritti Politti the gymslipped students seem to be caught in class playing with classical steps – slowly and deliberately exploring the possibilities and linking them in strange ways and unusual positions. Everything is about precise control, the 6 dancers immaculately schooled and millimetre perfect. It’s a zen garden of movement. I could put it on continuous play and happily spend an afternoon observing its cleverness.
Part 2 of the night is new. Sadly Clark’s love of playing with titles, or absences thereof, mean that most of us are calling it Albatross after the PIL song it opens with. Later we get New York Dolls and Sex Pistols. Grown up and in tricolour bodysuits with a black back that visually sharpens the movement, there is great effervescence but still the elaborate control of earlier – this might be the punk section but abandoned thrashing around is so not Clark’s style. It’s like moving sculptures.
After the interval we got more of last year’s work to a medley of Relaxed Muscle songs. Whereas before we had Jarvis Cocker and the band live, this time they put in a video appearance towards the end – projected onto the rear backcloth at full width and height. Before the band appeared we played word doodles – “What!” you mouth as the letters slowly form the word, and after that start words and phrases rushed across the screen in all directions until your mind is overloaded trying to read them. The sound is wound up and there is more movement anarchy and wild ideas about: the 3 women process across the stage in an elaborate train using mirrored 3-legged stools for propulsion; the impossibly tall Harry Alexander goes up on pointe, towering over all; elaborate contortionist duets emerge after complex, almost robotic, stylised entrances and a searchlight beams out at us. The costumes are in shimmering volcanic colours that change with the lighting (Charles Atlas) – utterly gorgeous both. But you still see classism popping out all over.
I come out feeling pumped-up at the artistry, invention and energy of it all. That and lamenting that we only see a new show once a year. Oh that we could encourage more.
Clark does more with 6 dancers than anybody else I know. Of course it helps that they are rather brilliant and include Julie Cunningham (up for a National Dance Award this year) and my own favourite, Oxana Panchenko, who started her career nearly 25 years ago in Kiev and in this, the hippest company of them all, is still the coolest thing on stage.