Kieran Page and Melissa Hetherington. Pictures: Hugo Glendinning

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

Birmingham Rep


Over the years Michael Clark CBE has certainly challenged the formal world of ballet with his fusion of styles, but now at the age of 55 there seems be a greater sense of precision and isolation in his current work To a simple rock 'n’ roll . . . song.

Clarke draws inspiration once again from his musical heroes as the production features the work of Erik Satie, Patti Smith and David Bowie with each piece creating a very different texture within each performance. Throughout, his barefoot dancers wear skin-tight body hugging outfits and those change in colour tone with each dance clearly representing the nature of the music.

Part one is The Prelude. Set to the starkly melodic piano of Satie’s Ogives Composite, it’s repeating melodic form gradually breaks down to sonic anarchy. Dressed in pure half tone black and white outfits like adjacent notes on a piano keyboard, the company respond in with an ever growing arrangement of complex of shapes.

There is a detail and precision in the exacting slow moving poses and the controlled one foot balances clearly challenge the physical ability of the dancers. In each of the three pieces is appears there is an isolation of the dancers with only a few moments where there are partnered lifts or combined movement. Each dancer seems to part of a machine and here act like keyboard notes that separately create a harmonic fusion.


Jordan James Bridge

In dance two we have Land and enter yet another digital world set against the projected  backdrop of Charles Atlas’s video installation ‘Painting by Numbers. This fills the entire back wall of the stage and the dance of black and white numerals make a sharp contrast to the gritty soundtrack from Patti Smith’s Horses album.

The colour tone changes again to grey and black with a costume detail of flared PVC leggings and while Clark’s precision with his choreography continues you are aware now of more general theme whereby there is a continual division and addition within the group performances whereby pairs will leave and exit the stage to be counter balanced by the entrance of another pair on the opposing side.

If the two opening piece are well grounded then Act three is star bound entitled My Mother, My Dog and Clowns! Clark’s lifelong influence of David Bowie comes into full force with a visual tribute to the late rock star. Bowie’s monasterial Blackstar is the influence for costumes of silver bodysuits that seem to change shape like alien skin as the dancers perform.

There is a well-made musical transition to Aladdin Sane and somehow the costumes and colour palette has changed to bright orange like the zig zag colours of Bowies Ziggy Stardust hair and make. The shapes are robotic like and angular and in the growing mechanical chaos one female dancer enters on points as a spinning blindfolded ballet dancer. It all reminds you somehow of the doll scene in the futuristic Blade Runner.

With the performance lasting only 50 minutes there is little time to reflect on each of the separate pieces and in denial of its rock and roll title there is nothing simple about this performance but I like it, like it.    

Jeff Grant


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