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  • Alistair Braidwood

Ya Dancer!

Michael Clark is someone who I haven’t thought about much in recent years, but the BBC2 programme Michael Clark’s Heroes (26/10/09) that looked at his latest work shook some happy memories loose of a time when he was involved in some of the most interesting collaborations between music, dance and theatre in the 1980’s. The Aberdeenshire born Clark left the Ballet Rambert to form his own company in the early 80’s and this move led him to choreograph and produce ground breaking work which took modern dance and ballet onto TV screens on shows such as The Tube and The Old Grey Whistle Test, where it stood out like a bare arse (which is a good thing, in case you’re wondering). Clark had clearly decided to take the attitude of punk and post-punk and apply it to the conservative world of dance, (at least as it was at the time).

I first saw his work on the Whistle Test when he collaborated with the mighty Fall, a relationship that was to prove fruitful to both parties. The song is The Lay of the Land, and, as my old Gran used to say, you’ll catch your death going out like that:

The Fall and the Michael Clark Company collaboration reached its critical highpoint when they worked together on the ballet I Am Curious Orange which was partly based on the Swedish films I Am Curious Yellow (1967)and I Am Curious Blue (1968), and which in turn proved inspirational to the young Stewart Lee and Richard Herring. Clark’s most commercial appearance, and my favourite (which I guess says a lot) was in this Scritti Politti video for their 1985 hit Woodbeez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin). Somehow Clarke and Scritti’s mastermind Green Gartside were made for each other:

Clark went on to work constantly over the years with Scottish Ballet, amongst others, while still working with his own company. As someone who is not a great attendee of ballet or dance the last performance I remember enjoying was when Clark played the part of Caliban in Peter Greenaway’s magical film Prospero’s Books (1991). But the BBC2 programme showed Clark at work on his latest production, in which he has interpreted songs by David Bowie, something he has apparently been working on for years, aware, as we all should be, that life is just that little bit better if you let Bowie into it.

Dame Dave has always made sure that the performance aspect of his work was as important as the music itself, and his work with the Canadian dance company La La La Human Steps, who were doing work that was similar to that of Michael Clark’s company, is only one example of this . The following video is taken from Bowie’s much maligned late 80’s period (I think it’s in the period after The Glass Spider Tour but before Tin Machine for those who care about such things) but it shows that even when he is not perceived to be at the top of his game he is still way ahead of most other musicians in terms of putting on a show that challenges:

But back to Michael Clark. The New work also takes inspiration from the other two members of a particularly unholy trinity, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. It sounds fascinating, but unfortunately was performed in Edinburgh earlier this year, and it passed me by, although it is in London’s Barbican until Nov 7th if you’re in the area. The centre piece of the performance is his interpretation of Heroes, which will have the video playing behind the dancers on stage, and that alone would have been enough to pull me in. But it just so happens I have said video right here:

(and no, this entry is not just an excuse to play my favourite Bowie song, How dare you suggest such a thing.)


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