Mark Brown reviews Michael Clark’s The Barrowlands Project, Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow.
“Everyone can dance, everyone does dance.” So argues the legendary dancer and choreographer Michael Clark. It’s a statement which would seem to mark him out for the difficult task – at the heart of this work in Glasgow’s famous Barrowland Ballroom (a closing event of the UK-wide London 2012 Festival) – of bringing professional and non-professional dancers together in public performance.
Clark’s insistence upon the ubiquity of dance in our daily lives might have suggested a close combination of the highly-trained dancers of his Michael Clark Company and the non-professional performers drawn from the local communities of the West of Scotland (who are more than 40 in number, and aged between 18 and 64). However, as it transpires, Clark has taken an oil and water approach in which the two sets of dancers mix rarely and barely at all.
At the outset of the show, the community dancers take to the large ballroom floor in four carefully arranged groups. They perform movements of typically Clarkian geometry, and varying levels of complexity. The effect is, by turns, impressive (as a large number of people moving in unison, or, even, near unison, tends to be) and oddly disquieting (as one finds oneself increasingly aware of the stark contrasts in ability between one dancer and another).
As the opener ends, with the members of the community company lying on the floor, a member of Clark’s company sprints through them in a moment which is simultaneously startling and humorous. And that – save for a point, near the end of this hour-long show, when the community dancers snake their variably graceful and ungainly way between Clark’s professionals – is the only time we see the amateurs. The rest of the piece is a fairly conventional Michael Clark performance (if that adjective is ever appropriate to a choreographer whose rule is to break the rules).
The dance (often performed in quasi-Olympic costumes) carries many Clark signatures, from the exhilarating, angular movements of avant-garde, rock ballet to the imaginative irreverence of a dancer wearing pointes being lowered from the ballroom ceiling (seemingly with a rope around his neck). Performing to a curiously imbalanced musical score (David Bowie and Pulp make perfect sense, the distractingly tinny sound of Scritti Politti never does), Clark’s superb, brilliantly physically varied dancers conclude a frustratingly uneven show with a stunning closer in which their stark-yet-subtle movement contrasts beautifully with the live music of eight Scottish pipers.
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on September 10, 2012
© Mark Brown