Magazine article Artforum International

Now, Then! Now, Then! Now, Then!

Magazine article Artforum International

Now, Then! Now, Then! Now, Then!

Article excerpt

STRETCHING IDOLS, bending bodies, reshaping minds and audiences. Encountering "The Stravinsky Project" over the course of two nights in June at the Rose Theater at Lincoln Center in New York made me resurface puzzled and empowered. Those unhinging qualities of bodies moving. I liked what this did to me. An event that had it all. The production of pleasure and strangeness and more: moments that make us slow down to take in the substance of experience in all its complexity. As if Iggy Pop and Yvonne Rainer had been rolled into one.

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And the site of all this, the dancers' bodies, barefoot, continuously and most purposefully exchanging motions. The body becomes the medium of differentiation, and differentiation of perception occurs. Partially shattered discourse. Intense materialism, structures laid out like nonmimetic brushstrokes. Intensifying all cognitive ambitions at once.

This is not writing itself to give you more info, but to show those processes of the mind, to dissect and reconstruct those images offered by the event of "The Stravinsky Project" by Michael Clark--to touch and resist, to choose to be interested in those processes that lie between the becoming and vanishing of images, to put everything in doubt, the now, the then, joyfully, humorously, while insisting on the specificity of images.

Clark's short program note starts out: "Balanchine, Nijinsky, and Nijinska were something of a holy trinity for me as a student. ... Since then over time they have become family," then goes on to "pay homage to Balanchine, the father of American modern ballet. I intend to do so by making a small detour ... to forge my own path." And: "It is this impulse to create things I have never seen before, coupled with my respect for the past, which beats at the very heart of my work."

Well, he goes about that creation with no hesitation. Whatsoever. Leaps in forcefully desystematizing, destabilizing, trying to undo the logics of representation while remaining interested in the history, and the inescapability, of that logic.

This interest in a continuous development of paradoxical moves coincides with a generational formation. Punk rock, 1980s club cultures in Great Britain. It was a pop-cultural moment of flourishing collaborations of all kinds. In Clark's case, this means his early involvement with designers (like Bodymap), with bands (like Wire, the Fall, Laibach), and, very important, with the most unclassifiable Leigh Bowery. Clark was choreographing his most punk-attitude-laden ballets then, massively pop-spectacular, notorious for the strapped-on-prosthetic-dildo act, to name one example.

The posing and voguing. One signature thing in Clark's choreography is the movement of the arms. There is the exaggerated stretching out, the hunching down, the controlled extreme expressionisms. Like a tableau vivant exploding. Depicting the conditions of desire in the world. Elements of pogo dancing; the hunch down; and, very often, small movements of the pelvis, usually arrested in an odd slow-motion wiggle that is asexual and sexy at the same time: Those movements show up repeatedly. And even the most untrained audience, even the spectator who knows nothing about ballet, will find a connection. Then one can start looking at the specifics. Each body--and the bodies in this ensemble are interestingly shaped, some very small, one very statuesque, one like a spring, and so on--is dealing with it in a different way. The bodies start speaking up with their limbs, while remaining utterly constrained by the structures of the ballet. Curator Suzanne Cotter called it "expanded plasticity." Or you could call it a conceptual Gesamtkunstwerk, a total artwork that is never really total, that is purposely distorted with humor or classicism, or rebellion, or attitude. A gesamt that is never complete, or really holistic--and that does not always makes sense, either. But gesamt enough to still be able to connect with the body, with art. …

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