Michael Clark blazed a trail through the 1980s, churning together ballet, rock and clubland fashion accessorised with chainsaws and dildos. A shooting star, he burnt out spectacularly in the 1990s, making a tentative return to orbit in 1998 with current/SEE, and a surer one in 2001 with Before and After: The Fall.
Like that work, his one show at the Barbican, a collection of short episodes, is partly retrospective. It quotes liberally from previous pieces, and Clark’s own self-effacing appearances, respectably suited and accompanied by recorded audience reactions (cheers, laughs, boos), lend ironic distance to his earlier centre-stage celebrity.
Wilfully defying his reputation for excess, Clark opens Would, Should, Can, Did with the gratingly severe Latest Lasts Longest. Four dancers in simple black outfits step stiffly in square patterns to the monotonously repeated chime of the theatre’s five-minute warning bell. This is bare-bones minimalism without any “sauce”, as Erik Satie would have said.
solos played first in sequence then simultaneously, like multiple perspectives merging into a cubist collage
Satie’s own plaintive Ogives provide the score for the alabaster beauty of Satie Studs, an expanded version of a piece made for guest dancer William Trevitt. Radiantly clothed in white, the performers sculpt their bodies into chiselled poses and angled balances in four solos played first in sequence then simultaneously, like multiple perspectives merging into a composite, cubist collage. Can Do signals a stylistic shift towards Clark’s saucier side. The dancers speed up, executing whiplash turns and twisting their shoulders spikily.
The second half of the show accelerates the pace, racks up the volume and brings in Clark’s extended family of friends, colleagues and collaborators. Fashion designer Hussein Chalayan contributes sleek tunics, “art rocker” Susan Stenger thrashes her guitar, impassive behind her Janis Joplin hair, and Brit artist Sarah Lucas gives Clark trite toilet-bowl trousers.
Clark’s mother Bessie makes an endearing appearance, as a mystery man with a bridal train, the object of unrequited love accompanied by Nina Simone’s Wild is the Wind. These varied episodes generate a scatter-fire energy, and only in the final part do Clark’s two extremes come together choreographically, disciplined classroom combinations segueing slickly into punkish pogo and Thriller-era clawing.
Starting with excessive clarity and ending with clamorous excess, the evening offers tantalising visions of what Clark would, should, can and did achieve. Will his next production, in September, be more firmly forward-looking?