“It was deep love for The Fall that set me on the road that led to the anarchic Scottish ballet dancer Michael Clark. It was only a few years ago, and it was sort of by accident.
A year or so ago, I got a bit excited about the media centre in the BFI, in which you could stick on really good headphones and trawl through their archives of almost everything. I spent many happy hours just typing in all the things I liked, and seeing what brilliant old LWT programmes it came up with, or weird 50s information films and so on, you get the gist.
After tapping in ”Ëpunk’, ”Ëcups of tea’, ”Ëcats’, etc, it didn’t take long for me to type in ”ËThe Fall’, and up came a clip from ”ËHail The New Puritan’ ”â the film of a kind of day and night in the life of Michael Clark and his dance company, made by Charles Atlas, featuring Leigh Bowery, Trojan and of course, Mark E Smith and The Fall. I’m not an inverted snob about stuff like ballet but I wouldn’t have necessarily watched it otherwise. And the fact that Mark E Smith was up for the collaboration seemed interesting and somewhat unlikely – until I learned a bit more about Clark anyway.
When I later heard the film would be screened in full at the BFI as part of a dance festival I booked straight away, although I needn’t have done – there was just a handful of curious (or rather Kurious, hoho) people, half of whom walked out in the middle. I sat, mesmerised, a bit in love ”â not with Clark per se, but with the mere fact this existed, the merging of such emotive elements, the fusing of soft and hard, grace and beauty with ”Ëpunk’ attitude (that sounds hackneyed now, but you know what I mean) and the jagged urban 1980s landscape of East London, wedded to a compelling industrial soundtrack. It was stunning and weird and I adored it.
My main reason, initially, for devouring this film was to see The Fall, and in what capacity they would be included. It contains a succession of funny little moments of intense interest, slipped in between the rehearsing and training like the flash of a bit of costume jewellery sandwiched down the side of a sofa. Moments such as Mark E Smith and a self-conscious Brix, smoking and talking, scripted and deliberately quite theatrical, to camera and to Clark, edited in a way that it overlaps with itself, pencil scribblings across the frame. We catch a slight and private wince of trepidation on Smith’s face as he settles down to watch Clark’s company dance to his music. Later we are suddenly privy to Bowery and Trojan primping themselves before a night out with Clark, bickering gently, then pouncing like hens on heat on Clark when he drops round, all mohawk and kilt and a glint of amusement in his eye. The film ends with quietly poignant, private scenes in which Clark walks home alone along Regents Canal after a night out, enters his warehouse flat-turned-rehearsal space, takes off his biker boots and dances through the come-down in his vest and pants to ”ËAre You Lonesome Tonight’ in the starkness of another London dawn.
Some time later, I heard Michael Clark was coming to the Barbican. Life was so busy I almost forgot until, very appropriately*, the fine photographer that is Kevin Cummins invited me to join him at the preview night. (*Appropriate because Kevin took the images which became the artwork of The Fall’s 1988 album which was written as a soundtrack to Michael Clark’s ballet ”ËI Am Curious, Orange’, based vaguely around the story of William of Orange taking the English throne.)
Knowing that Charles Atlas would be lighting designer for the London shows, and with Ellen Van Schuylenbach, one of my favourite dancers from ”ËNew Puritan’ and founder company member, still in the company, I was nerdily thrilled before it had even started, and it did so with a dark, glittering section entitled ”ËSwamp’ to the music of Wire and Bruce Gilbert. The use of music in Michael Clark’s work never seems shallow or pretentious, like a ballet company trying to be edgy and new by flinging themselves around incongruously to rock music. It works perfectly.
A later piece, ”ËCome, Been and Gone’, featured the music of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, David Bowie and Brian Eno. All the maverick Clark hallmarks were very much in evidence: rudeness, humour, grace and precision. Costumes, by BodyMap, displayed more than a few fetishy, body-stockinged hints of the considerable influence of Leigh Bowery ”â aggressively sparkling silver gimp suits and one flesh-coloured costume covered in jabbing hypodermics. Michael Clark himself, who had been somewhat under radar after succumbing to heroin addiction during his hey-day, danced a few joyous cameos in a dayglo hooded romper suit, and the evening ended with a huge projection of the beautiful video for Bowie’s ”ËHeroes’, (all the more poignant given the current focus, celebrating 20 years (today in fact) since the fall of the Berlin Wall.) The dancing was dwarfed to this mammoth projection but I think that was the point, as they were danced to *it*, as opposed to the video accompanying them. They mirrored Bowie’s every movement, when he touches his hair, little moments of emotion.
We hoped, as we ambled, stunned, to the aftershow that Michael Clark would be there, so we could stand in front of him not knowing what to say, trying not to let bits of sausage roll fall out of our open mouths (I’m speaking for myself here of course). But we didn’t see him. I liked to think he would suddenly descend on us from the ceiling in a harness, or slide down the giant exposed lift-shaft (possibly a little painful, even for one as graceful as MC). If he did, it was after we’d left. Never mind… the magic (and my dignity) remained in tact.
I leave you with a clip of the Michael Clark Company and The Fall: