fri 20/09/2019

Michael Clark Company, Come, Been and Gone, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews

Michael Clark Company, Come, Been and Gone, Barbican

Michael Clark Company, Come, Been and Gone, Barbican

Come Again? You wouldn't notice the 20 new minutes, apart from the naked boy

Come, Been and Gone: Oxana Panchenko and Clair Thomas in 'Jean Genie', the best bitJake Walters

A second coming for Michael Clark's recent Barbican commission Come, Been, Gone. Eight months after the London premiere (on which I opined unenthusiastically below last October), he has added another 20 minutes of choreography, they said, with new costumes and artworks. The revision is also now artfully retitled Come, Been and Gone. Not comma-Gone. And Gone. Makes all the difference. Furthermore, note the following revisions to the individual section names: the original "Come" is now entitled "Been", "Been" has actually gone, and been replaced by a new "Come" (that’s the inserted part) while "Gone" has been renamed "Come Again". I think.

Also the PR inserts are different: a big tasty poster photo of dancer Simon Williams doing a headstand in the nude, while the cover of the sleeve that it’s packed into is no longer a snap of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed but an undistinguished squiggly drawing of the Queen and a scrawled slogan, “I like my job”.

It should be an Andy Warhol image. Michael Clark is the Andy Warhol of dance, a man who knows just how to be famous by recycling very small commons over and over and making people read tectonic shifts in each minute re-scratch. I just see the re-scratches. He is onto a winner with his choice of music, though: 1970s Velvet Underground and David Bowie are huge again, and last night’s audience was noticeably young - much younger than Clark who is 48 and old enough to be the dad of many of them.

The opener, Swamp (a quarter-century old now), continues to hold attention with its druggy equilibrium of woozy music by Wire and Bruce Gilbert ("Feeling Called Love" - listen to it below - and "Do You Me?") supporting slo-mo, constricted, careful ballet-posing by three couples (last night mostly in control of the tricky balancing). It comes over like a carapace of memories of classical ballet primary positions constructed in a stupor, and it is a strangely telling experience of something lost. The music is fantastic: swamping, metronomic and sense-dulling, and the marine blue of the dancers’ leotards and slowly strobing light add to the Scuba-diving effect. Nice work, but it’s too short and skimpy to have to serve as the main meat of the night.

Listen to Wire's "Feeling Called Love":

Been (which was Come last time, I reckon) is much as before, the men in silver bumster spray-on leggings, Kate Coyne sheathed top to toe in a mirrorball bodysuit, all very Graham Norton Show - until Coyne has an agonised solo to Lou Reed’s “Heroin”, dressed in a flesh-coloured bodysuit studded with syringes. This is the first genuine emotional hit, half humour, half horror. The dancer seems to have spasms of cramp while she tries to outline her ballet poses, collapses in a foetal heap, and revives only when Oxana Panchenko, a racehorse among ballet physiques, teeters in delicately on pointe. Then it’s back to tired camp for "Ocean", with the men in ladies' swimsuits and pink houri veils, draping themselves on the floor languidly and waggling their feet about like starfish.

Come (the new one, do keep up) uses three added Bowie songs, "Sweet Thing", "Candidate" and "Sweet Thing (Reprise)", and reprise indeed it does, all the things too familiar in Clark’s choreography these days, the cautiousness, the costiveness, the bodybuilding poses, the disinterested slowness, great attention to splayed legs and arms held brittly overhead in fifth position as if it might all shatter if someone laughed.

 

A large sketch of a naked boy offering his buttocks to the viewer hangs aft, courtesy of Peter Doig. The sweet young thing on stage wears rent-boy breeches with a flapping genital pouch and slits drawn over his bum, and poor Kate Coyne looks like an Everton Mint in her third unfortunate bodysuit in a row. The other girls practise at a ballet barre wearing flappy fringy batwings, which make the flat-frontedness of Clark’s choreography for them look even more hieratic and 2D. Clark himself (like Hitchcock, he habitually puts himself into cameo roles) hangs desultorily off the barre for a few seconds and then vanishes. It is shapeless, aimless, enervating to watch. Very feeble applause from last night’s audience at this point too.

The old Gone - which if I’ve got this right is now Come Again - is more arresting at least for the famous old Clark banana-backed sliding walk in those terrific Stevie Stewart black/white/beige leotards with their Japanese-warrior black headgear. Bowie’s bluesy, cleverly cracked voice and riveting persona are shown on the enthralling video accompanying “Heroes”, eclipsing the lackadaisical skipping by the dancers in black, redolent of a children’s dance class.

Clark makes his own still substantial stage presence felt in an effectively self-mocking little solo where he pulls his trunks off while three nude dancers waggle their bottoms, and yet this comic suggestion is undercut by his hesitancy when alone, touching the stage warily as if it might bite him, turning away from his public as if scared to face them. This solo echoes Coyne’s “Heroin” one,  but it’s quite deftly turned towards a looser, more relaxed finale by the time we end with "The Jean Genie". It’s good to see Clark actually loosening up a little, daring to let his assorted dancers off the rein a bit - and himself - but despite the quirks of detail, the whole thing feels tedious and undernourished. For something spikier and fresher from the Wire/Clark collaboration 23 years back see the video below:

Shivering Man: Michael Clark/Angela Conway with music by Wire’s Bruce Gilbert in 1987:

 

Barbican premiere review, 30 October 2009

 

What do you say when an enfant terrible has started to become boring? Enfants terribles usually become persuaded by their support team to keep looking back, to bang on about the times when they were terribles, so that new generations shall learn the sacred text too - but somewhere, after 20 years, surely the blinding talent that made that enfant so terrible has to break out and say, enough, let bygones be bygones, be more, be new. It’s been an education seeing Mark Morris and Michael Clark this week - both trail huge expectations, but for me while Morris usually outstrips them, Clark is proving puzzlingly stuck in an old groove, clinging to his old poses as well as his old records.

In comparison with his hero Merce Cunningham, or his near-contemporary Morris, Clark has produced a small quantity of quality choreography, but spread it thin, and recycled it a lot. This three-part programme at the Barbican, reviving his long-ago hit Swamp (1986), and then pillaging it for a new work, Come, Been, Gone, reveals the persistence over a quarter-century of familiar Clarkisms, the slow sliding backward-tilting walk with pointed feet, the stiff-backed arabesques and wooden arms, the self-conscious ballet barre poses, now set to consciously backward-looking music - Lou Reed, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, in their 70s heyday when Clark was a lad, before the maelstrom of fame, hope and fear.

It should, I'd have thought, be a creation of exuberance, prelapsarian freshness, when instead it feels like another bout of the costive self-retrospection that has been increasingly visible in his recent works, as if the material that brought him jetset success and hothouse attention has become a crutch. Swamp at least allows you to speculate how in the period of his wildest clubbiest excesses for his own company in the Eighties, he was capable of making something for the newly remodelled Ballet Rambert that actually cut through the ornate varnishes that were swamping ballet to the clarity and austerity of pose beneath.

Its music, by Clark’s longtime friends Wire and Bruce Gilbert, is a numbing grey wall of relentless throbs, tingles, bangs and rumbles; the original ballet was inspired by the heavyweight slugfest that was Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, though almost all of that high emotion is bleached away in this sparse, static choreography for four couples dressed soberly in dark blue or white in a steel blue light. Yes, you can understand why it felt amazing then, especially when Melissa Hetherington performs it, with her instinct for enriching line with her own thoughts. Though I wish Clark had not reached for old friends who can’t dance as well as they used to 20 years ago to join his sleek new performers.

I wish all this because Come, Been, Gone is for nearly all its length Been, Seen and Done. Both its parts begin with the same old banana-backed slidey walk as in Swamp. There is glitzy production spending, a microphone on stage,  louchely low-slung silver leggings, pink houri veils, and something that looks like a custom-built commode, while the Amazonian Kate Coyne is twice cast as The Thing, once in a spangly white all-over that turns her into a humanoid mirrorball, and then in a woolly brown all-over studded with (I think) hypodermic syringes to dance a squirming and vulnerable solo to Lou Reed’s “Heroin”. Why, I wonder, if Swamp removes its emotive derivation to focus on its dance language, must this new piece parade Clark’s celebrated drugs history with such obviousness? Why can’t that solo’s choreography be allowed to speak for itself, with its twitching, short-circuiting limbs and poignant discoordination?

The banana walk once again saturates the third section, this time in a formation for six in the iconic old white-front-black-back leotards designed for Clark by Stevie Stewart - admittedly great leotards, but intensifying the general air of too much time spent among the trunks in the attic. Here Bowie’s rock songs struck me as showing the shortfall in Clark’s dance more than the Velvet Underground in the previous section: his lazy, witty, suggestive voice, his self-aware stage personality blazing from video, for heaven’s sake, demand something less sterile than this polite formation modern ballet which looks as if the dancers are clenching coins between their buttocks even when they jump.

Right at the end, though - hope springs. To "After All" Clark has a solo of redeeming capriciousness, spiced with three naked dancers wiggling their bare bums at us, and capped by a loose, spontaneously riotous ensemble for the six in fiery red leotards which sparks as liberatedly as children after school. It really is as if Clark longs to set himself free from the old passé genie - but why did we have to wait almost the whole evening to get there?

Watch David Bowie playing "The Jean Genie" on YouTube:

Clark is the Andy Warhol of dance, who knows just how to be famous by recycling very small commons over and over

Share this article

Comments

i am glad i'm not the only one to have been disappointed last night, i thought maybe i'd missed something as it was the first time i saw a Michael Clark show and from the reviews i'd read my expectations were v high, i was so excited to see this but sadly it didnt live up to it except for the last 15min & michael's solo...

the first section all in blue (i think this was entitles gone) was pretty awful, the dancers skill level wasnt up to the moves and there were a few moments when some of them swayed and wobbled and had terrible balance. Having said.....I really enjoyed the rest of the show, the three other parts were great but i think perhaps the costumes, light and set had a lot to do with this

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature

★★★★★

A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway

 

Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.

 

★★★★★

This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman

 

Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.

 

Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.