Perth Festival review: to a simple, rock ‘n’ roll… song by Michael Clark Company ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 14 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·
Back in the 80s, Michael Clark was considered the “wild child” of the British ballet scene. In a recent interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Clark explains that while he wanted to reject his Royal Ballet School training, he couldn’t. “It was in my body,” he elaborates. Instead he brought punk and ballet together in a glorious clash of cultures.
Fast forward 30 years or so to his latest production, “to a simple, rock ‘n’ roll… song” and that formal training is clearly still exerting its influence. The first work on the triple bill, Satie Studs/Ogives Composite, is created with reference and respect to some of the giants of twentieth century classical and contemporary dance: Ashton, Cunningham and Cage, Rainer. While the program notes for the other two works don’t explicitly name those influences, both have that same retro feel. In all three works there are strong shades of both Cunningham’s aesthetic and Clark’s own classical training base.
In Satie Studs/Ogives Composite, Clark commemorates the composer Erik Satie by paying tribute to dance works created to his music by the aforementioned choreographers. The resulting work is physically demanding and unforgiving. In particular, balances are prolonged and performed in unison; perched on one leg, torsos tip and tilt precariously, the working leg unfolding and slicing the air smoothly. The seven dancers meet such challenges with almost super-human skill.
To Satie’s often discordant piano, combinations of triplets, crisp petit jetés and athletic grand jetés bring to mind the clean and functional lines of Cunningham and the complex and musical footwork of Ashton. Clad in black and white unitards, the dancers make stark silhouettes against Charles Atlas’s vibrantly coloured washes of light.
A five-minute break and we’re in another world, Act II’s Land. The music of Patti Smith fills the auditorium with the promised “rock ‘n’ roll” as the dancers appear clad in black leather pants. But it’s the backdrop that’s the real star of this work, an adaptation of a video installation by Atlas, entitled Painting by Numbers. While the choreography remains relatively formal (even the hip-wiggling is precise and staccato), the dancers are swept up in Atlas’s swirling universe of geometric shapes that swell and subside, showered in his cascades of numbers.
And so to Act III, my mother, my dog and CLOWNS (Bowie fans will get it). There are no program notes for this work, perhaps because its David Bowie soundtrack speaks for itself as a tribute. As in Land, the music is massive, the movement restrained.
In gleaming metallic unitards (a playful tribute to Ziggy Stardust), the dancers are often robotic in their precision as they work through what we now know as Clark’s trademark contemporary arabesque lines, skipping footwork and soaring leaps. At other times the choreography has a superhero stateliness as the performers progress across the stage with deep lunges and dramatic hinges.
A frantic solo by Oxana Panchenko is one of the few moments in the program where there is a sense of release from formal movement. Tantrum over, she coolly eyeballs the audience, hips swivelling seductively.
While mention must be made of Daniel Corthorn for his gravity-deying grande jetés and sissones, all the dancers showed incredible discipline throughout the rigours of this physically exacting program. The cheers of the opening night audience at curtain call were testament to their outstanding performance.
Pictured top: Michael Clark Dance Company performing ‘Satie Studs/Ogives Composite’ at His Majesty’s Theatre. Photo: Tony Wilkinson.