tue 20/08/2019

Michael Clark Company, th, Tate Modern | reviews, news & interviews

Michael Clark Company, th, Tate Modern

Michael Clark Company, th, Tate Modern

Turbine Hall turned into a dance studio - it's all a bit polite

Turning the Turbine Hall into a dance studio: The set-up for Clark's 'th'
Michael Clark brings dancers into Tate Modern in a long shadow cast by some memorable events from choreographers Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown. Now the ground on which Ai Weiwei’s poignant porcelain seeds were piled is swept clean and laid with a striking white-and-black dance floor, with audience seats arrayed on three sides and the massive height of the Turbine Hall politely decked with spotlights. It’s as if Clark wanted to turn the gallery into a dance studio, rather than insinuate dance into a gallery, which may partly explain the unrisen soufflé of th, his world premiere last night.
You have to start with the enormous hall, which isn't necessarily a whale about to swallow Job. A gallery is a place of many spaces, both concretely defined - by walls, steps, railings - and of the imagination - a corner by a door here, a vista of walls there. For Trisha Brown, we wandered about Tate Modern, seeking out events, or noticing from crowd behaviour that something was going on in another space. Years ago, Dance Umbrella commissioned lively site-specific dance performances at the Natural History Museum and British Library, where a dinosaur or a bookcase might be totally in the way of some activity or other. Galleries are places for wit, surprises, dance in new shapes - and th has a few glimpses of that, but not enough to stop me wondering where Clark's going now (50 next year).

th (I'm guessing the letters stand for Turbine Hall) continues the love song to David Bowie that flowered in 2009's come, been and gone, and recycles quite a bit of that work, with the dubious new ingredient of 50 amateur volunteers brought in off the street last autumn as a community experiment. Split in two halves, created to seven Bowie songs with three more by Jarvis Cocker and Kraftwerk, th counterpoints the ordinary Joes, pinned and belted into fluffy black towels, against 13 trained dancers in sleek leotards. The towels give a puzzling air of Roman togas, while the portentous programme note states that Clark wants to invoke militarised societies and mass social actions.

My eye. I bet someone else wrote that. Anyway, there are several things wrong with this as a performance experience. First, the towels show much of the natural flobbiness of ordinary Joe legs and the volunteers know it and look generally embarrassed; second, their drills are too elementary to have much symbolic resonance; and third, they can’t even do them in sync, so there is nothing to be pondered sociologically other than why the audience screams with acclaim for their paltry efforts. (Now that's a social comment worth making, how easily audiences today think three “dance” steps is some kind of miracle.)

On the other hand, the real dancers are as sleek as seals in their second skins: their leotards change from white and black, to silver and black, to silvery orange - the last ones lighting up the dinge of the Turbine Hall something splendid. Their choreography is, as has become familiar with Clark, made up of short routines of extremely tight-arsed ballet, legs and thighs obsessively turned out, feet obsessively pointed, and with much-repeated v-e-r-y slow walking. There’s no sign yet of Clark lightening up on the hands, which remain as usual jagged as shards of glass, and the heads on the dancers’ stiff necks remain almost robotically unyielding, eyes forward, all thoughts shuttered.

I’ve been seeing this Clark signature for too long now to find it enigmatic any more - I long for a little bit of the cackle, individualism and almost holy worship of ballet’s ritual language that his great youthful pieces went in for. In the past decade that risky, psychedelic theatricality has become austerely chic, cleaned up, it’s become a script of balletic hieroglyphs, more powerful I think when read flattened on a proscenium stage, like writing on a page, than in-the-round.

Where Cunningham’s dancers would enter, flock and leave like naturally forming organisms, Clark’s seem to be placed into the stage - over here, over there, a couple in the middle. The encounters lack linking threads. The audience’s heads swing from side to side, left, right, left, right, more worried about missing something than able to fasten on a long phrase, or a sequence passing motion back and forth.

Listen to David Bowie's "Sweet Thing/Candidate"

Still, there are two or three marvellous points. In a sequence to "Sweet Thing/Candidate" (see AV above), a beautiful boy alone in the middle, spotlit in the dark, does those achingly slow, succulently thorough stretches and rolls that the boy Clark used to be glorified for, echoing the self-absorption of Jerome Robbins’s Faun - suddenly you become aware that across to the side three other men are watching this Adonis, one working at his own barre, two others upstairs on a balcony. The lad notices them, crosses to the barre, and the electric moment dissipates in work. It’s a magically erotic exploitation of the mystery of dark space between lights.

MClark_TH_Jean_Genie

In another, the "Heroes" sequence, we see a film of David Bowie, compellingly closing in on his mischievous, seductive clown face and his vividly shifting, capriciously expressive body, while across the hall two or three dancers in black offer a steady live counterpoint. Spectator heads swivel towards the live dancers, but in the dark under the film screen as Bowie closes in foetal huddle on the ground, you could make out Clark himself in a hoodie, in an echoing sequence of Bowie/Faun-like stretches in which I thought he was looking at himself in a mirror (or iPad?). This Narcissus in the dark was a fascinating ephemera, a glimpse of a parallel world, and something so deceptive I wondered if I’d actually seen it. Is Clark's storyteller side preparing to re-emerge?

The joyfully strutting Jean Genie ballet-meets-salsa finale has been seen a couple of times before in other Clark pieces but those Stevie Stewart costumes (pictured right) remain the most exultantly saucy outfits you'll ever see on a ballet body.

Clark creates short routines of extremely tight-arsed ballet, legs obsessively turned out, feet obsessively pointed, and with much-repeated v-e-r-y slow walking

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Comments

I didn’t think it was an 'unrisen soufflé' at all! I thought it was multi-erected and rose like a chef’s cooked 'toad in the hole'! I think the reviewer is also a little inarticulate in paragraph two. It is unclear what point they are making. They need clarity here. Is it necessary to compare what has gone before? ‘…a long shadow cast by some memorable events’? - I can imagine an old turbine hall worker making a similar comment over the use of the space under its new occupancy, but what would they be saying apart from nothing at all? After reading and LIQ (laughing inside quietly) at: '…rather than insinuate dance into a gallery'. The thought comes to my mind that I could have insinuated my own perceptive participation in the gallery by not taking a seat and standing by the concrete wall to glance sideways at the performance but then I would be ‘being silly’ wouldn’t I? The attack on the volunteers is too easy and is unnecessary. I thought that the unprofessional quality was an asset. If at times it was not in sync then that was another refreshing aesthetic. True, you would at first expect professional perfection, however ‘…how easily audiences today think three “dance” steps is some kind of miracle’? I would love to hear this review writer review something by Philip Glass. But then again, we are such silly audiences aren’t we!? I wouldn’t listen to much of what you read in this review, I would just go along and see the dance.

As one of the non-dancer dancers I'm sad to read such a mean-spirited review of what's been an amazing experience. My 47 cohorts and I have given up hours and hours of our own time to rehearse and learn what for us has been a challenging routine. Moving in precision, mastering complicated floor movements, and getting the guts to do it night after night in front of huge crowds is not easy - yep we sometime get a little out of sync, or mess up, and not all of us have dancer bodies, but does that really matter? All of us volunteers are dance lovers and fans of Michael Clark, and getting to be part of this amazing group of people in our tiny little way has been inspirational, moving and, for me, certainly one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. Michael and the company have been without exception kind, generous, and extremely patient with us, treating us as a vital part of this production. You say we looked embarrassed - what you actually saw was 48 people stepping into another world, and feeling pretty proud and lucky to be there, "flobby" legs or no. And I'll know that the applause we receive in our brief time as members of the Michael Clark Company will be very much earned.

I was dancing last night with the Michael Clark Company as one of the non professionals. The review above is laughable in that it misses the point of the show entirely. th isn't about showing perfection. It is about illustrating the beautiful imperfections of humanity. I think Ismene Brown was probably the only person who didn't leave the Turbine Hall with a smile on her face. But the tone of reviews suggests she doesn't smile very much at anything.

This review is complete waffle. The point of taking untrained dancers and placing them in a synchronised, almost military set of movement is to accept "flobbiness" as you so clumsily put it. The striving of effort and error, tightly compacted into a tight piece of choreography is precisely what gives the volunteer pieces their charm; the humanity of the non-dancers is striking and wonderfully refreshing. This review seems, to be quite frank, over-critical and bitter for the sake of being bitter. The rest of the show is stunningly choreographed with an aching sense of pathos and, of course, the mischievous phrases that make Clark such a brilliant artist. Don't listen to this review, go and see for yourself.

Well, I haven't seen this. All I can say is that I've never come across a more uninspired, mediocre chunk of dancing than I witnessed Clark half-choreograph in the Stravinsky triple bill at the Barbican. Yes, he was brilliant in his youth but on the strength of that I wouldn't want to spend another evening in/with his company (and I'm sure he returns the compliment).

"Even the greatest stars dislike themselves in the looking glass" It's being repeated over and over on a loud PA system (Kraftwerk - Looking glass) but you still managed to somehow miss the message, meaning and the spirit of show. You even throw in a massive insult to boot. You must see perfection in the mirror everytime.

This review is not to be tossed aside lightly. It should be binned with great force. What a mean spirited and wrong headed attack on the volunteers who were brave enough to dance by someone cowering behind their words and missing the point entirely. This elitist controversialism is no substitute for poor writing and insipid criticism.

Pina Bausch’s “Kontakthof”. Ea Sola’s “Wind and Rain”. Twyla Tharp’s “The One Hundreds”. Three dance works that in my view use(d) non-professionals and volunteers with more resonance and pathos than I got here. Cunningham and Brown have used the Tate space more stimulatingly, in my view. Not sure why it’s mean-spirited to make those judgments according to my memories, which I can hardly wipe. I’m saying that in this particular show the volunteers part was perhaps more fun to do than to watch, but there were elements of “th” that were lovely and indeed made me smile inside.

This review is one of the most interesting dance reviews I've read in a long time. It actually analyses the production, debates its themes and the realisation of those themese and places it within a larger contextual setting. As performers you have completed missed the point of performance if you think that a member of the audience's opinion (even as a professional crtic) on what they saw is unfair or invalid because they felt that what you did wasn't very good when you are struggling to get over your nerves and do something difficult. Children are (wrongly) brought up on unqualified praise for their 'efforts'. If you are going to get up infront of hundreds of people and expect them to watch you then you better be doing something worth watching and if its not or parts of it are not up to scratch then don't have a tantrum. Learn from it. The 'professional' dancers would. Also remember that all art is subjective. One man's Hogarth is another man's hogwash.

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