Magazine article The Spectator

Bad Boys

Magazine article The Spectator

Bad Boys

Article excerpt

Mark Morris Dance Group

Sadler's Wells

Michael Clark Company

The Barbican

Sleeping Beauty

Royal Opera House

Last week, the 2009 Dance Umbrella season rolled merrily towards its end with performances by two former 'bad boys' of the choreographic world. Luckily, neither event looked anything like those boyband comebacks the music industry thrives on these days. After all, Mark Morris and Michael Clark never cease to amaze and enthral audiences, thus remaining, Peter Pan-like, 'bad boys' for much longer than actual boyhood. Interestingly, they both presented recent works that allowed seasoned dancegoers to take the pulse of their current artistic creativity.

Those who love Morris's tongue-in-cheek reading of illustrious scores might be pleased to know that Empire Garden (2009), Charles Ives's quotations-packed trio for violin, cello and piano, prompts a kaleidoscope of colourful and quirky ideas that surprise with their humorous inventiveness. Yet humour is not this creation's main ingredient, as delicately darker tones and whiffs of bittersweet self-reflective nostalgia permeate the action.

New ideas, hinting visually at a game of social and even political tensions, are subtly juxtaposed with brief choreographic references to some of Morris's most recognisable signature features. The overall impression is that of an artist who, while creating a new work, has stopped briefly to look back, more or less affectionately, at his younger days' devil-may-care approach.

Rarely before has Morris's intentionally elusive narrative looked so splendidly sombre and dense with possibly unsettling meanings. It is indeed the calibrated chiaroscuro of emotions, images and music visualisation that turns Empire Garden into a powerful yet fluidly accessible work. Its choreographic complexity contrasted vividly with the other two items on the programme: Bedtime and V. Both set to intoxicating Romantic music, by Schubert and Schumann respectively, they stood out on account of the evergreen magic of what in the dance world is generally referred to as 'the Morris effect', which draws upon the sense of fluid enjoyment generated by Morris's unique way of composing dances to great music.

Clark's Come, Been and Gone could also be regarded as a 'mature' work. As such it encompasses some of Clark's most established and recognisable traits as well as what could be seen as a new approach to dancemaking. Clark's geometric lines and movement ideas are thus transplanted to an unusually stylised choreographic environment, dominated by what would appear to be an almost detached, yet carefully vigilant approach to the creation of some breathtaking images. …

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