Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

to a simple rock'n'roll ... song

Michael Clark
Michael Clark Company
The Lowry
19 October 2016

Good things often come in small – or relatively so – packages. The Michael Clark Company’s one night at The Lowry was entitled ‘to a simple rock’n’roll … song’, which gives you some idea of where he’s coming from these days, and though a triple bill, in effect, provided about 50 minutes in total of dancing time.

Nothing wrong with compactness if it’s high enough quality. And this was. The audience absolutely loved it, and the technical level of the dancing was almost unbelievable.

First off was a piece to piano music by Satie, with the intriguing title of Satie Studs / Ogives Composite (ogives being pointed arches of the sort we associate with medieval architecture). The music is allusive of grand, gothic monuments but with the haunting incompleteness of Satie’s harmonic progressions. The dance was topped and tailed by ensembles, with a solo, duo, trio and another duo in between – the last ensemble an extraordinary matching of previously disparate parts already seen, reflecting the way the music does exactly the same thing in sound.

It seemed to me to hark back to the classical precision of the pre-war era of British ballet, with its black and white costumes reminiscent of the black pieces in Ninette de Valois’ Checkmate. Some moves were almost akin to the adage section of a ballet class, but with no barre (tweaked and highly varied, of course), and the technical control and poise were remarkable – especially in the dancing of Melissa Hetherington, with Kieran Page.

Next up was a short piece called Land, to music from Patti Smith. It had a mesmerizing black and white video backdrop by Charles Atlas – an installation in its own right originally, it seems – which rather outshone the dancing and gave me sensory overload, but the sheer exuberance of the movement was a joy and fitted the sound like a glove.

Last was ‘my mother, my dog and CLOWNS!’, to tracks by David Bowie (Blackstar and Aladdin Sane in particular) which reverted to simple coloured backdrops silhouetting the movement. The songs carried it to a highpoint which the dancing reinforced, and everyone went home, very happy, for an early night.

Reviewer: Robert Beale


Comment by David Cunningham

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that you can’t dance to rock ‘n’ roll. The wildly enthusiastic movements it provokes might be at home on the dance floor but do not fit into the discipline of a Dance Company. Michael Clark avoids this problem by imposing a tightly controlled minimalistic choreography on his dancers. He also cheats – the songs from David Bowie’s back catalogue have a strong jazz influence as much as rock. Thought that Charles Atlas’s crammed and chaotic video backdrop came closer to capturing the emotional overload described in Patti Smith’s terrifying lyrics than Clark’s restrained choreography.

Comment by Kevin Bourke

"To a simple rock'n'roll .... song" is an oft-overlooked line from Patti Smith's 'Land', a key track on her devastating debut, itself one of the key albums of the rock'n'roll years. Clark's use of it as the title of this thrilling programme is indicative of his immersion in, and feeling for, rock'n'roll, just one of the reasons his work resonates far beyond the traditional dance audience. Married to dancing of an almost unbelievable quality, as Bob rightly points out, yet, like the best rock'n'roll, not afraid to be a little foolish and funny too, it can be pretty irresistible, as the rapturous response last night indicated. "Emotional overload", to use David's apposite phrase, was not limited to the Patti Smith song, and I was surely not the only one in the house to find the astute, not overly reverential, use of Bowie's brilliant career finale 'Blackstar' poignant to the point of inducing tears of rage, tears of grief.