Nude-effect ombré spandex juste-au-corps and David Bowie songs are not what one immediately thinks of when it comes to a contemporary dance show. Yet those things are second nature to Michael Clark. Last week, the Scottish choreographer – often hailed as “British dance’s true iconoclast” or, alternatively, as “the most brilliant and worst behaved” alumni of the Royal Ballet School – arrived in Paris to revolutionize the established codes of dance in the French capital. Not at Opéra Garnier or the Théâtre de la Ville, but at La Villette, the recently opened centre for the arts in the peripheral 19è arrondissement. An unexpected setting, fitting for come, been and gone, Clark’s choreography which originally premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 2009.
Paired with his earlier show Swamp (from 1986) as the first act, it included all the trademark traits of the enfant terrible, e.g. a balanced mixture of classical and contemporary influences. Clark once joked that, while creating, he drew parallels between Nijinsky and Iggy Pop “because of the madness and abandon”. The Stooges frontman was actually featured in the soundtrack with his solo song Mass Production, along with The Normal’s Warm Leatherette and David Bowie’s Sense of Doubt, Heroes, Future Legend and Aladdin Sane. A selection punctured by Bruce Gilbert’s disturbing windscreen-wiper washes of sound in Swamp, and swinging between punk and glam influences. Glam was also the inspiration behind the costumes (created by Stevie Stewart and Michael Clark himself), second-skin bodysuits on black and white and in loud strawberry and lemon tones paired with striped blazer jackets reminiscent of those Kansai Yamamoto created in 1973 for Ziggy Stardust.
The whole show had a celebratory quality, paying homage to the decadence, the strut and the wayward fun of 1970s rock (Bowie even made a cameo appearance in the shape of a video installation where he sang Heroes in 1977), as Clark mixed vaudeville jigs, pointes, Broadway jazz and even a flash of disco as he built up the dance with near unbearable restraint until he finally allowed it to detonate in a frenzy of jumps and kicks. An ending that provoked a roaring rockstar-worthy burst of applause and left the public longing for more. But then again, isn’t that what rockstars do?