Aberdeen born dancer and choreographer Michael Clark is one of the reasons I do what I do. Is it possible for women to have male muses? Absolutely, I think so.
I’ll never forget when I first saw that impossibly beautiful vision. It was a nothing kind of Friday night and I was up watching late night TV in the eighties. I must have been around just thirteen. I’d been a Durannie, but my tastes were changing to something better, more esoteric.
An arts documentary did a feature on Clark, still sporting Mohican and tutu. I forget the programme, but wager it was something like ‘Alter Image’, which was incredibly obscure. He kicked his height, did a pas de bourree and arabesque, but to the Sex Pistols and The Fall. He was articulate and very self -mocking : ‘ I have a beautiful body, I have a beautiful spleen. I have beautiful kidneys’, he deadpanned, aware of being watched and his body and every movement judged.
He was astonishingly talented and provocative: gorgeous, elegant and almost androgynous with bee stung lips, wide expressive eyes and a knowingly cheeky disposition. Yet somehow soulful, otherworldly and lost. And pirouetting to punk… What the fuck?! My brain was blown open.
He registered something I wanted in on. Not just because I fancied him. I’d attended dance classes as a kid but hated them (I didn’t want Scottish traditional classes , I wanted ballet) not knowing that is in fact how Clark himself began, before being accepted into the Royal Ballet School, London at a prodigious thirteen.
I tried to find everything I could on him and frantically devoured the NME, The Face and Melody Maker (and a little later, ironically, The List!) when he was in it, but he was frustratingly enigmatic and didn’t do that many interviews.
‘Hail The New Puritan’, Charles Atlas’ groundbreaking film, was screened one night, Channel 4 again of course, and that was it. Smitten. All over again. With him, his dance aesthetic and the campy misfits (Leigh Bowery, Matthew Hawkins, Trojan and the gang) in his wake, all presenting exaggerated versions of themselves and their scene.
I was stuck in Perthshire though, and still a kid. When I heard the Fall ballet he’d created was coming to the Edinburgh Festival, I was still only fifteen, and couldn’t go. My parents didn’t really ‘do’ culture, let alone post-punk ballet, and we were a working class family, who simply couldn’t afford it. It quietly broke my heart. Especially since it was a dream teaming- up.
A band I was starting to adore, with an amazing postmodern Nijinsky and his troupe, who were becoming notorious for baring their perfect arses, an ‘up yours’ to the establishment and any stuffy notions of cultural boundaries. Still, I caught them on various TV shows, now and again. But it wasn’t the same.
‘Prospero’s Books’, the stunning 1991 Peter Greenaway film, an avant-garde riff on The Tempest, also gave us an eyeful of Clark as the feral Caliban.
Fast forward to 2014, and I’m sitting dead centre of the third row reviewing a dance show at the Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling, for Exeunt. The show is called ‘Animal/ Vegetable/ Mineral’, and it is the Michael Clark Company.
Scritti Politti’s fragile, blue-eyed soul itch ‘ The Boom Boom Bap’ is playing. As Green Gartside tentatively purr/ croons, ‘ I love you still, I always will’, a familiar figure appears, now older, onstage, his much documented struggle with addiction a little worn onto his vulnerable but still handsome face.
It’s Michael Clark, and he looks fit, impish and oddly at peace. He flicks the Vs as he turns, both to the company, and to us. Still a cheeky bastard.
I burst into big, fat, tears. I’m shaking, at once beatific, and torn apart. He’s the reason, one of a few (Bjork, Bowie, Grace Jones, Goth, The Cramps on The Tube in ’86) that I’m still working in the arts industry today… Thirty two years later.
Thank you Michael. For absolutely everything. You’re still a huge part of every single thing. I love you. Still.
(Lorna Irvine, aka. Spoilt Victorian Child)
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