Michael Clark: Mmm...

Clark’s London premiere of Mmm... is a complete choreographic coup

The Artist

Michael Clark's petulant glamour has never made for a particularly chummy ambience. In performance, he has to virtually beat himself to a pulp before even one or two of his solipsistic veils are involuntarily let drop. Yet there is a rivetingly thuggish sexuality which heats up his stylised androgeny and it is enough to set him apart, Clark is just too specifc to have stayed put in the chorus, throwing eveything off balance with a piggy Darwinian pin-spot all his own. As a dancer he's gorgeously particular and very good - so good that one would occasionally like to see him embodying a dream other than his own. It's not that his kinetic architecture is bad; it's just that the whole often gets sacrificed to the parts like a fashion show where two or three incredible wedding gowns punctuate a run of perfectly ordinary suits.

Ppp...

With tracks by the Sex Pistols and Public Image blaring from loud speakers, Clark's London premiere of Mmm... kicked off more like a rock concert than a dance performance. One by one, the company (Joanne Barrett, Matthew Hawkins, Julie Hood and Clark) bolted across the stage costumed like Harlequins from the Starship Silly. The dancing was filled with a spastically mannered angularity which, as the individuals fused into and ensemble, became an underwhelming Ppp... (Perfectly polite pastich). This was followed by an intermission.

B,bb...

In Act II, the contrapuntal synchronicity gave way to something richer and stranger. Much of this was due to the introduction of two non-dancers (Bessie Clark, the choreographer's 68 year-old mother, and Leigh Bowery, Clark's long-time costumer). Mrs Clark sported a touseled mass of platinum curls as well as an obi and maxi-skirt of foxy pelts. In a decision that I can only imagine took longer to reach than one's average call home to mum, Bessie Clark also appeared topless. (On a beach in Bulgaria, this may not be a big deal; but on a London stage it gets a rise -'Blimey, bare boobs!')

Leigh Bowery, on the other hand, was precariously elevated on platform heels and, for the most part, as tightly under wraps as a mummy. His most amazing guise was a cross between Gumby and Mr Tooth Decay with the word 'Cunt' emblazoned on his cuspy headdress. His least amusing guise was as a kind of spangled Art Deco dominatrix (with Mrs Clark's little boy complimentarily garbed and leashed). Together, the two amateurs' undisguisable awkwardness pumped some real feeling into the piece. When, ultimately, Bowery appeared as Mrs Clark's distorted mirror image (wig, pelts, curiously defined breasts), Mmm... flickered with a poignancy that was almost Chekovian in its evocation of loss.

Bbb...

Clark was theatrically birthed into Act II wearing woolybear arm cozies and nothing else. Successfully and ingenuously cupping his genitals for the length of Sondheim's Send in the Clowns, Clark performed a goofy gentle solo that endearingly mediated between the audience's interest in innovative movement and Bbb...(Beefy balletic buttocks). More importantly, the solo, with its literal handicapping, provided the perfect illustration of just how good and how ridiculous Clark's choreography can get. In this case, good mostly triumphed.

Ccc...

In a gesture of exquisite generosity, Clark gave Act III to one of his dancers, Joanne Barrett. Working with and against Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, Clark devised a solo of such tortuous length, intricate movement, and call for technical bravado that Nijinsky's original conception never ghosted its way onstage. Barrett gave superb form to Clark's design making the piece as wrenchingly exultant to watch as it must have been to perform. After it was over, I kept returning to that terrifying diary entry where Nijinsky records his last public performance: 'God wanted the public to be in a state of excitement. The public came to be amused and thought I danced for their amusement. My dances were frightening. They were afraid of me, thinking that I wanted to kill them. I did not. I loved everybody but nobody loved me and I became nervous and excited; the audience caught my mood....I anted to go on dancing but God said to me: "Enough." I stopped.'

For Clark and Barrett, it was a triumph that semaphored a vertebral column of essential codependencies: dancer, choreographer, composer, context. It also turned Act III of Mmm... into a Ccc... (Complete choreographic coup). Clark is now 30 and, while the boy still has a ways to go, the man has clearly arrived.

Issue 6

First published in Issue 6

Sept - Oct 1992

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