MICHAEL CLARK – A RARE BIRD (NOT THE BYRD)

Things have been getting almost too exciting to breathe, recently.
But we are doing are best to stay calm!
The weekend was wondrous Winchester water meadows the magical Masha Cleminson members of Mule, the Presence of Now and Marianne and Tori i singing songs of reslience and passion in the front room after the extraordinary indentical twins Sophie and Nathalie Cooper did a balilika and guitar duet in the bedroom.
Masha is planning what looks like an amazing festival next year in September at the UK Youth Charity site in Avon Tyrell, but the festival she had in her house was good enough to be going on with.
Then, last night, the first round of our Quiz at The Geronimo chain.
The Lord Palmerston in Tufnell Park – what a lovely boozer and what great people!
90 of them turned up and it was a raging success.
Look out, Ma – the Trees is going mobile!!
And such friends we have too – like the shiny, magical, lovely Zoe f’rinstance.
Thats Zoe Street Howe whose current tome on The Slits Typical Girls is possibly the most important Britrock book of the year, if not decade.
And here she is now writing for us, for free. Exclusively.
Only on The Family Of Rock Site (though there might be a bit on our friends over at The Quietus website too) folks…
Take it away, Ms Z….
“It was deep love for The Fall that set me on the road that led to the anarchic Scottish ballet dancer Michael Clark. It was only a few years ago, and it was sort of by accident.

A year or so ago, I got a bit excited about the media centre in the BFI, in which you could stick on really good headphones and trawl through their archives of almost everything (but not quite). I spent many happy hours just typing in all the things I liked, and seeing what brilliant old LWT programmes it came up with, or weird 50s information films and so on, you get the gist.

After tapping in ‘punk’, ‘cups of tea’, ‘cats’, etc, it didn’t take long for me to type in ‘The Fall’, and up came a clip from ‘Hail The New Puritan’ – the film of a kind of day and night in the life of Michael Clark and his dance company, made by Charles Atlas, featuring Leigh Bowery, Trojan and of course, Mark E Smith and The Fall. I’m not an inverted snob about stuff like ballet but I wouldn’t have necessarily watched it otherwise. And the fact that Mark E Smith was up for a collaboration seemed interesting and somewhat unlikely. Unlikely until you know a bit more about Clark anyway.

When I later heard the film would be screened in full at the BFI as part of a dance festival I booked straight away, although I needn’t have done, there was just a handful of curious (or rather Kurious, hoho) people, half of whom walked out in the middle. I sat there, mesmerised, a bit in love – not with Clark per se, but with the mere fact it existed, the merging of such emotive elements, the fusing of soft and hard, grace and beauty with ‘punk’ attitude (that sounds hackneyed now, but you know what I mean) and the jagged urban 1980s landscape of East London, wedded to a compelling industrial soundtrack. It was stunning and weird and I adored it.

My main reason, initially, for devouring this film was to see The Fall, and in what capacity they would be included. It contains a succession of funny little moments of intense interest, slipped in between the rehearsing and training like the flash of a bit of costume jewellery sandwiched down the side of a sofa. Moments such as Mark E Smith and a self-conscious Brix, smoking and talking, scripted and deliberately quite theatrical, to camera and to Clark, edited in a way that it overlaps with itself, pencil scribblings across the frame. We catch a slight and private wince of trepidation on Smith’s face as he settles down to watch Clark’s company dance to his music. Later we are suddenly privy to Bowery and Trojan primping themselves before a night out with Clark, bickering gently, then pouncing like hens on heat on Clark when he drops round, all mohawk and kilt and a glint of amusement in his eye. The film ends with a quietly poignant, private couple of scenes in which Clark walks home alone along Regents Canal after a night out, enters his curtainless warehouse flat-turned-rehearsal space, takes off his biker boots and dances through his come-down in his vest and pants to ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ in the starkness of another London dawn.

I heard that Michael Clark was coming to the Barbican this month. Life was so busy I almost forgot until, very appropriately*, the fine photographer that is Kevin Cummins invited me to join him and his lovely wife Susan on preview night. (*Appropriate because Kevin took the images which became the artwork of The Fall’s 1988 album I Am Kurious Oranj, which was written as a soundtrack to Michael Clark’s ballet ‘I Am Curious, Orange’, based vaguely around the story of William of Orange taking the English throne.)

Needless to say I was a little bit excited, and also was praying that I wouldn’t be disappointed. I’d been to see the Merce Cunningham ballet company last year, and found it pretentious, lumpen, woolly and at times funny (inadvertently). I didn’t need to fret, in this case.

Knowing that Charles Atlas was lighting designer for the London shows, and with Ellen Van Schuylenbach, one of my favourite dancers from ‘New Puritan’ and founder company member still there (in what I imagine must be quite an ageist industry, this I thought was pretty cool), I was already nerdily thrilled before it had even started. It did so with a visceral section entitled ‘Swamp’, glittering like dark metal, using the music of Wire and Bruce Gilbert. The use of music in Michael Clark’s work never seems shallow or pretentious, like a ballet company trying to be edgy and new by flinging themselves around incongruously to rock music. It is a kind of alchemy, it works perfectly.

A later piece, ‘Come, Been and Gone’, featured the music of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, David Bowie and Brian Eno. All the maverick Clark hallmarks were very much in evidence. Rudeness, humour, grace and precision. Cheeky nudity, costumes, by BodyMap, displaying more than a few fetishy, body-stockinged hints of the considerable influence of Leigh Bowery – aggressively sparkling silver gimp suits and one flesh-coloured costume covered in jabbing hypodermics. Michael Clark, who had been somewhat under radar after succumbing to heroin addiction during his hey-day, danced a few joyous cameos in a dayglo hooded romper suit. The evening ended with a huge projection of the beautiful video for Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, (all the more poignant given the current focus, celebrating 20 years (today in fact) since the fall of the Berlin Wall.) The dancing was peripheral to this mammoth projection but I think that was the point, as they danced to it, as opposed to the video accompanying them as a backdrop. They mirrored his little movements, like when he touches his hair, little moments of emotion.

We hoped, as we ambled, stunned, to the aftershow that Michael Clark would be there, so we could stand in front of him not knowing what to say and gibbering slightly, trying not to let bits of sausage roll fall out of our open mouths. (I’m speaking for myself here of course). But we didn’t see him. I liked to think he would suddenly descend on us from the ceiling in a harness, Kevin suggested he might slide down the giant exposed lift-shaft (looked a little painful, even for one as graceful as MC), but if he did, it was after we’d left. Never mind, magic spell (and my dignity) remained in tact.

If you don’t know Michael Clark, I’d like to leave you with a clip of the Michael Clark company and The Fall on the Whistle Test, so you can see what I fell in love with.

3 thoughts on “MICHAEL CLARK – A RARE BIRD (NOT THE BYRD)

  1. Totally agree, Zoe, that Michael Clark dance Troupe and The Fall doing Lay of The Land OGWT clip is one of the greatest dance rock interfaces ever.
    Thanks again!
    x

    Like

  2. Music & dance punkin’ out 2gether – just had to happen / gotta love it. For my buck, M Clark is the Bob Fosse of fin de siecle. Abs stunning! Wonder how Smith & Bowery got along….
    Thank U ZOE! xxxxxxx

    Like

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