Culture in Quarantine: Michael Clark’s To a Simple, Rock ‘n’ Roll… Song at the Barbican online
Combining art forms is not new, but combining ballet with rock presents an element of the cutting edge. The renowned Michael Clark’s intriguing collage of movement, music, lyrics and video montage (Charles Atlas), to a simple, rock ‘n’ roll… song – in a recording with an introduction by Jarvis Cocker – showcases the choreographer’s unique, trailblazing artistic style. Premiering at the Barbican in 2016, and partially nominated for an Olivier Award, the production is featured here in a filmed 2017 presentation on BBC iPlayer.
The work’s innovation is in its focus – rather than conventional dance to a score, the music and verse are equally important, if not more. Featuring icons Patti Smith and David Bowie, as well as the repetitive, minimalist sound of “phonometrician” composer Erik Satie, the visuals interpret the music and words.
Marrying modern dance, video art and Patti Smith punk, the first composition, Land, vibrates with an explosion of numbers on film that seems to wash over the three performers, who admirably enact Smith’s edgy anarchic rock (Horses) in solos and sexually charged duets, culminating in a playful scream.
Like an abstract painting in motion – to a blank blue background, Erik Satie’s gentle but mechanical piano tones accompany the beautiful numerical physical precision of rigidly coordinated puppet-like bodies in Ogives Composite, forming a stark contrast to Smith’s ebullient passion.
David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, is the focal point of the Olivier nominated third act my mother, my dog and CLOWNS, another minimalist piece with brilliantly choreographed performers resembling space beings. A howl announces the closing act with Bowie’s Aladdin Sane (1973), as a savage ambience of red background and lighting highlights superbly coordinated red-gold-clad dancers.
The overall impression of Clark’s compelling ballet is one of oppositions – the passion of the sound of Smith and Bowie vs precise, mathematical choreography, perhaps meant as a comment on our tech-infused era. It is a rivalry between art forms, as numbers compete with dancers, and the power of the music and lyric poetry vie for dominance.
Yet despite the struggle, all elements achieve remarkable harmony. A thought-provoking, dynamic, fascinating show – that will likely prompt an urge to dance – Michael Clark’s to a simple, rock ‘n’ roll… song is available online until July.