to a simple, rock ‘n’ roll . . . song.
Michael Clark Company
Tanz im August, Haus der Berliner Festspiele
August 17-19, 2017
The deliberate, elegant precision of the title of this latest piece from British dance mainstay Michael Clark is apt. Over three distinct acts, Clark moves us from Erik Satie, minimalist turn-of-the-century composer, to legendary rocker Patti Smith, to the late great hero David Bowie, with stark, affectless movement scores repeating, turning, and accumulating into a euphoric spectacle that is anything but simple. Performed by a spellbinding, seemingly superhuman company of dancers, to a simple, rock ‘n’ roll . . . song. presents an history of the twentieth century as defined by music, technological innovation, and–of course–sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Not to mention Clark’s heavy hitting influences, noted in the program: Frederick Ashton, Cunningham, Cage, Rainer.
What sets Clark’s take on this not-unfamiliar narrative apart is his precise placement of past and future in the body, together. As minimalism, sexuality, and futurism advance and retreat sonically throughout the evening, choreography travels through the body in turn. Emotion and context grow out of formal repetition as new scores are constantly added and reimagined. In Clark’s world, the body is the expert, the holder of memory and meaning. Satie lives in an extension, Smith in hip roll, Bowie in the lighter-than-air stride of the genderless black-shrouded figure who soars across the stage during Bowie’s final opus “Blackstar”. Through Charles Atlas’s dinstinctly sculpting lighting design and a stage adaptation of his disorienting 2010 video installation “Painting by Numbers” in Act 2, the architecture of an empty proscenium space evolves with the choreography.
By placing these cultural influences side-by-side, they become inextricably linked; Satie’s grounded formal precision somehow still feels essential when we arrive at Bowie’s euphoric futurism. Clark forces us to look backwards and forwards simultaneously. We turn our thinking minds off and listen, feel, and muscle ourselves through life instead.
Photo: Hugo Glendinning