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Michael Clark

'Swan Lack' and 'Thank U Ma'am'

by Rosella Simonari

26 June 2009 -- Teatro alle Tese, Venice

Michael Clark’s new work was the result of a European partnership, comprising barbicanbite09, Dance Umbrella (London), La Biennale di Venezia (Venice) and Dansens Hus (Stockholm) within the ENPARTS project – European Network of Performing Arts – and with the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union. It was produced by Dance Umbrella, barbicanbite09, Michael Clark Company, Edinburgh International Festival, Grand Théâtre de la Ville de Luxembourg, and Maison des Arts de Créteil.

Until a few days before the performance, “New Creation” was the title provided, then the two-part piece received these evocative names, “Swan Lack” and “Thank U Ma’am”. The first makes an obvious and ironic reference to “Swan Lake”, while the second has more directly to do with rock icons such as David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed who inspired Clark for this new project. As Judith Mackrell has noted, this is a big leap from his previous acclaimed Stravinsky project, even though music is still the catalyst for his creation. “Rock has been vital to me even at a personal level, it has shaped me as an individual as well as an artist”, Clark affirmed, and this is particularly interesting given his transgressive approach to dance. The Teatro alle Tese is in the Castello area of Venice, and it takes ten minutes to walk from the theatre entrance to reach the actual building, which becomes almost magical at sunset. When the lights go down, I am ready to transfer my attention from the watery sunset to the moving bodies onstage.

“Swan Lack” is characterised by a neoclassical taste and line, both of which are repeatedly questioned by the electric blue adherent costumes by BodyMap and the dancers’ painted eyes, big round dark shapes that circle their eyes. Movement never seems to really take off, it is as if the dancers are holding their energy. There are five women and three men onstage, they sometimes form couples or small groups. The dance is fixed in alternating poses. A vertical line of light slowly passes in the background as if it were modulating the dancers’ rhythm. It returns in the second piece.

“Thank U Ma’am” is a more articulated work, and it opens with a female dancer once again physically transmuted by her adherent costume, which is white and beige at the front and black at the back. She holds an arching posture, with her bottom placed forward. She walks and is then joined by the other dancers. At the end of this piece Clark dances a solo with an unusual chair, his costume is looser than that of his dancers, two of whom come in to perform a duet.

Another section begins, with Bowie’s “Heroes” being played. This time BodyMap created black costumes with a tiny adherent leather-like jackets. Bowie’s face is projected at the back, and it initially captures the audience’s attention. Then Clark enters again performing slow paced movements, while at the back three of his dancers –  completely naked – show their backs and ironically touch each other’s bottoms. A third piece begins within this second section. This time the dancers' energy is released, the pace gets faster and the flaming red and golden costumes make the dance phrases shine with thrilling energy. There is a final fourth piece where the music is a bit too loud, and it almost distracts us from the dance.

According to an interview Clark gave to Mackrell, “Swan Lack” and “Thank U Ma’am” are works in progress, and they do bear his ironic and ‘naughty’ touch. However, they become engaging only in some parts, especially towards the end.


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