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Michael Clark - 'Oh My Goddess'

by Lyndsey Winship

May 11, 2004 -- Sadler's Wells, London

Michael Clark has built himself a cult following thanks to his punk rock persona, fashionable friends, cool collaborators, and a little personal scandal on the side. But despite all this cutting edge anarchy, his choreography sticks close to its classical roots. He may have a devilish spirit but he's a sucker for beauty. And all the better for it.

"Oh My Goddess," which premiered at last year's Dance Umbrella, sees him in fine form and doing everything on his own terms. In a witty opening, the dancers come scurrying on lemming-like, wearing paper bags on their heads. Clark carries off such moments of lunacy with complete conviction, which is always the secret to getting away with it.

Music from krautrockers Can, Sex Pistols, The Human League, and T Rex rattles the Sadler's Wells speakers, but it's a section set to Satie's sparse, slow, spacious piano music that is most striking.

A slow chain of chords chime from the four pianos at the back of the stage, ringing into silence, creating a barren backdrop. Tom Sapsford starts dancing, making a succession of angular statements. Everything is equally spaced, in perfect lines and 90 degree angles. The body is open, like the modal harmonies.

Sapsford is followed by two dancers, then three, moving in unison to Satie's music. The choreography is perfunctory almost, unsentimental but strangely absorbing. Very Zen. When the four pianists play their pieces concurrently, the bare chords overlay each other to become clashing and antagonistic. The dancers do the same, clashing silently as they perform their different pieces simultaneously, mixing up the signals. It's a very simple idea, but sometimes the simple ones are the most effective.

The dancers strip to just flesh-coloured lycra, blurring into one body, or perhaps a set of vertebrae, while Clark appears as if he's just wandered in off the street. In shiny tracksuit top and ill-fitting trousers, he loiters on the edges, busy with physical witterings. While the rest of the cast are uniform, he plays his misfit role -- the eccentric creator, pulling the strings, and never quite happy to run with the flock.

The core of the show, the eponymous section set to seven PJ Harvey songs, is slightly disappointing. Polly Harvey's music is visceral and vulnerable; but where she snarls, seethes, and spits out a full frontal assault, Clark's dancers never quite look you in the eye, literally or metaphorically. They're too cold, too contained, to match up to their muse.

Nevertheless, Michael Clark's brilliantly British fudge of classicism, rebellion, superiority, and self-deprecating humour makes him something to be thankful for, even when the sparks don't quite fly.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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