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come, been and gone

THEA LENARDUZZI:  Punk choreographer, Michael Clark is perhaps best known for high-profile work with artists, fashion designers and musicians including Trojan, BodyMap, and Wire. My first encounter with Clark was his collaboration with Mark E. Smith and the deciduous 2001 line-up in Before and After: The Fall. There began a fertile and wonderfully febrile artistic relationship with Sarah Lucas, whose verbally and visually salacious humour deliciously complements Clark’s own. Unfortunately, my introduction to this fiery world was dampened by its being viewed through a computer screen courtesy of a well-known internet service provider. 

            Twenty-six years after Clark launched the Michael Clark Company with  New Puritans and Do You Me? I Did, I finally got the chance to do it too, thanks to the Barbican which, after a sold out season in 2009, plates up the next instalment of Michael Clark's critically acclaimed production. 

            Come, Been and Gone is an ode of sorts, primarily to David Bowie, whose track, ‘Heroes’, provides the main course of this visual feast. This said, the alimentary analogy needs clarification. The production is divided into three distinct parts yet the twenty minute pauses between these are so coated with the flavours of the previous and so whetted with anticipation of the next that you can almost taste what’s cooking. For Clark, “bad dance focuses on shape, not telling the viewer how you get from one place to another” and, as Bowie’s track suggests, the ‘main course’ could not be so tasty were it not for the steady stream of equally toothsome amuse-bouche that precede it. After all, without Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, would palettes so readily have appreciated Bowie?

            Clark employs a familiar technique of deflection that undercuts conventional hierarchies and precedents in the same way as artistic and linguistic trickery does. It’s the same game that makes a breast into a fried-egg and a fried-egg into a breast. Which is breast? And which is best?

            Indeed, much of Clark’s work revolves around a love of words and meanings, which Clark says “as a choreographer you've got to work both with and against.” Interpreting his own work, he says “you'll see phrases where a position leads to its own collapse, where a shape buckles and falls apart,” which suggests that Clark’s choreographed moves are pun-like themselves. This might give some credence to my companion’s World Cup flavoured assertion: “British ballet, One—French ballet, Nil.”

            The impact on the ‘real/ non-real’, or more immediately, the ‘real-life/ art’ hierarchy is equally substantial. Compared to my first computer-screen-mediated experience, watching Come, Been and Gone felt how I imagine it might feel to eat something for the first time after years of having your tongue coated with plastic. Once the sheath was removed, the locus of the ‘real’ as compared to the ‘virtual’ seemed uncertain, or possibly merely unimportant. Clark’s dancers are rendered palpably present by Stevie Stewart and Richard Torry’s deeply coloured and textured costumes, accompanied by Charles Atlas’s lights which lend them a sheen so glossy and fleshy your teeth ache to bite them.

            Sitting in the dusty brown velvet of Barbican’s Theatre Right, the shapes described on stage are irresistible, all the more so because there’s something slightly unsavoury about it all: the fur-coat, the larger-than-life heroin needles, the naked body swinging in a leather harness that drifts across the stage. These are not appropriate at respectable dinner tables; they are the sequences that Clark celebrates for being “opposed to everything you've ever been taught, graceless, awkward.”  Like serving a meal of avocado and lime frozen custard made with raw eggs to dinner guests, “it's actually very hard and dangerous, which makes it exciting.”

come, been and gone.  Michael Clark Company

3-12 June 2010 Barbican Theatre

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