I saw the Michael Clark Company’s ‘Come, Been and Gone’ (click) this week. Twenty four hours before sitting in The Barbican for this dance production, I’d been on the pitch at Old Trafford for the penalty shoot out at the end of Soccer Aid, by contrast utterly random and basic in it’s excitement. Come, Been and Gone was an incredible experience. One so compelling, it removed my conscious from the relentless mediocre information stream of modern living.
I was taken there by a friend of Clark, Jake Walters (click), the photographer who shot images for the project. The work is inspired by David Bowie, but also includes elements by Dave’s pals Lou and Iggy, amongst other significant musical creatives. I’m a devoted fan of Bowie, but have only rarely seen dance performed, so was viewing as a relative layman. That’s what is telling about Clark’s performances; even if you don’t know the first thing about dance, it’s very apparent that you’re regarding the work of a genius.
A series of sets unfolded including modern, mental, classic and sexually provocative dance all played out to a clever edit of songs. An unreleased track by Wire, the rigorous Mass Production by Iggy Pop and All The Mad Men by Bowie each with a fresh dialect of movement. It’s a while before you engage in what you’re seeing without your brain sporadically thinking mundane thoughts. Gradually the dancing, visuals and music talk to you in an abstract manner. Your position as watcher in The Barbican falls away. It’s a multilayered encounter, as paintings by Peter Doig are lowered on wires, and at one point we’re treated a section of video of Bowie singing Heroes while Clarks dancers flow and articulate below. Dave wears a crucifix in that video, one notes, mesmerised.
Heroes video still.
The Bowie style references are deft, not obvious or pedantic. The whole composition is very accomplished on that level; Not all about Bowie, not all obvious tracks or iconic hairstyles. The costumes by Stevie Stewart (of Bodymap) are interpretations of the artists verve, in dance costume form and in no way slavishly Bowiesque. The set design and lighting were also excellent.
The penultimate piece is performed to Aladdin Sane, and the dancers are clad in liquid orange-sun-silver graduated metallic cat suits reminiscent of excerpts from The Man Who Fell To Earth. It was everything you’d want from that epic song, blissfully eloquent and expressive. So much for your conscious to absorb, it made me rush a bit. I did think actually I cant take a great deal more of this before something gives, as the shapes and expressions sort of surge and explode in your brain, the whole thing becomes ecstatic.
The last piece is the relentless rock pounding of Jean Genie. All I can do is run round a park listening to this in comparison to what Clark’s crew do with it. (Note. Don’t dwell on the video of this on the companies site, it looks silly in comparison to the real work, and almost what stalwart cynics might guess modern dance affairs might look like). The whole work is hugely entertaining. Other than dance brilliance and style, Clark has an impudent sense of humour. For example elements such as a syringe and abyss adorned cat suit a dancer wears for Velvet Underground’s Heroin. Words flash up for split seconds; sexual language mixed with words like ‘fudge’, ‘sack; and ‘dudel’ are very Clark and very cheeky.
Clark made a number of appearances himself, which pleased the audience and me. It’s gratifying to see the head that all of this madness and beauty springs from. He takes the piss a little, but still has miraculous expressions at his disposal. He finally danced on wearing a droopy yellow smiley face baby grow. It was on the floor when Jake and I visited his dressing room to say hello and congratulations. The room was littered with mad fascinating bits and pieces of peculiar detritus, dislocated completely from the chrome curtained splendour of the Barbican.
He talked intensely about sound details and lighting, and the new bits they’ve added. He was talking to a bloke about how to put the show on in the Turbine Hall of The Tate Modern. It’s this summer and the public will be able to watch the company rehearse. The different venue will change how the work functions; the company will roll with that, constantly evolving. Go and see it. It’s mental and amazing. Michael told us how one of the company had lost her husband a fortnight ago, but was dancing on. They work extraordinarily hard and even at this pinnacle of their art, are poorly funded. What money comes in, goes back into production. The dancers don’t get paid much at all.
When we left The Barbican, it was raining, dark and late. Silk Street was deserted. Except a for small girl/woman sat in a pool of light and dryness at the bus stop. She looked up and smiled at us without thinking. It was Oxsana, one of the company, wearing clogs and tight jeans. She was lively considering the performance she’d just given. She was cheery considering it was her who had lost her husband. One wonders would the Barbican audience believe the girl they just marvelled at in a spectacular vision on the stage would be waiting in the drizzle long after they’d got safely home or to late supper? The whole damp vista was a world apart from the money sodden and vastly attended Soccer Aid affair the night before. It seems the public at large place a far higher value on Al Murray, Jamie Theakston and Alan Shearer playing ‘fun’ football than our most talented creatives experimenting brilliantly with the work of legends like Bowie. Soccer Aid was for charity, and its not fair to judge on that level really, so I wont. Life isn’t particularly fair, but on occasion you experience something truly remarkable that stays with you deep down, and I’m not talking about a celebrity penalty shoot out.
Michael Clark Company (click)