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First performed at London’s Barbican in 2016, Michael Clark Company’s Olivier Award-nominated to a simple, rock ’n’ roll . . . song. comprises a triple bill of gorgeously arresting choreography. Performances by a company of fearless and otherworldly dancers are complemented by Charles Atlas’s scintillating lighting design, adapted from his multi-channel video installation Painting by Numbers, all to a soundtrack of Erik Satie, Patti Smith and, in the final Act of the triptych, David Bowie.
The show is the latest in a long line of adventurous performances by Clark, who came to prominence in the 1980s with a series of boundary-pushing shows that helped redefine contemporary dance, infusing it with a shot of punk rock fused with Dadaism. Often surprising, occasionally shocking, and always inspiring, he’s also collaborated with such creative forces as uncompromising indie heroes Mark E Smith and The Fall, visual artist Sarah Lucas, filmmaker Peter Greenaway, fashion house BodyMap, and famed performance artist Leigh Bowery.
Taking a break from rehearsals for to a simple, rock ’n’ roll . . . song. (which visits Warwick Arts Centre on 6 March 2019), Michael Clark Company’s Associate Director Kate Coyne chats to What’s On …
Michael’s works often evolve over time, subtly changing - what challenges does that present for the dancers?
The dancers embrace the challenge, but it is, as a dancer, hard to break physical habits. Once steps are mastered, dancers are reluctant to take the security of practise away and try new things in front of an audience. However, these changes keep the brain instrumental in the performance, rather than just doing what you have always done- a recalibration that Michael is keen to employ to keep the dance ‘alive’.
Act II features an adaption of Charles Atlas' video installation, Painting By Numbers. Much of Atlas' work features the human body, but this doesn't ... can you tell us a bit about the installation/ visuals?
The video installation is a work of choreography in itself! It has a lot of movement and direction, and Michael has choreographed some of the movement on stage to juxtapose with the movement in the visuals.
How would you describe the connection between to a simple, rock ’n’ roll . . . song.’s three Acts?
Michael knows his audience is not just dance aficionados; he described ‘Land’ [with the Patti Smith track] and the Bowie tracks as "rewards for sitting through the Satie”. It's also a reward for the dancers because the Satie is so pared-down, it's a reward for them to do something more abandoned.
Many of Michael's works have a strong personal connection to him - does this piece retain or explore that connection?
The first act is a reflection on the work of his many close mentors and colleagues who also found inspiration in the music of Erik Satie. And Bowie of course is one of Michael’s musical heroes; there is definitely a strong personal connection in its tribute to him.
Is there any sense that this is something of a goodbye to Bowie?
To be taken as the audience sees it - it may mean different things to each observer.
Michael has used music by both Satie (Satie Stud) and Bowie (come, been and gone) before - but is this the first time he's used a Patti Smith track?
Yes, although her work has been a part of his listening library for decades, and this particular track is of huge significance to him.
From your time dancing with the company, what were some of the highlights for you?
There are many highs - too many to list, but one of my favourite experiences was working with large groups of non-professional dancers on our projects at Tate Modern in the Turbine Hall, in The Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow and at The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The participants who volunteered to dance in these projects were inspirational in their commitment to doing the steps well and as a team. This is what we as dancers do every day, but it was wonderful to be reminded that there is a value in dancing, and dancing with others.
What are the company's plans for the coming months?
We have a tour of to a simple, rock ‘n’ roll . . . song. that takes us to Europe, before work commences on the next major project for Michael Clark Company which is our new commission for the Barbican in 2020.
Michael Clark Company: to a simple, rock ’n’ roll . . . song. visits Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, on Wednesday 6 March 2019, at 7.30pm. Details: www.warwickartscentre.co.uk
Photo credit: Hugo Glendinning
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