The Surreal Post-Punk Choreographer Celebrated in a New Book
The graceful majesty of ballet’s peerless enfant terrible, Michael Clark, who forever redefined modern dance with his subversive and club-inspired choreography, is exquisitely captured in these dynamic images taken across his illustrious career. Leaving his hometown of Aberdeen to join London’s Royal Ballet School in 1975 at the tender age of 13, the precocious Scot had choreographed 16 original works by the time he was 22, his “post-punk and high camp” performances selling out from New York to Tokyo. Collaborating with a coterie of musicians, artists, friends and lovers, including alt-rockers The Fall and performance artist Leigh Bowery, Clark exploded onto the infamously elitist stage, bringing dance to the masses and critics to their feet. “At his recitals the mandarins of Britain’s ‘high arts’ would rub shoulders with a burgeoning and eclectic bohemia of rock stars, artists and musicians,” explains Suzanne Cotter, one the editors of a new eponymous monograph from Violette Editions. “Many of them had never seen dance outside of a club or disco.” Presenting hundreds of powerful images previously thought lost alongside four years of painstakingly collated interviews and essays, Michael Clark collects elucidating interviews, photos and essays from the legend’s wide family of collaborators and colleagues, including Mikhail Baryshnikov, Wolfgang Tillmans, Grayson Perry and Ellen van Schuylenburch. In these exclusive extracts, the book’s contributors expound on his unique genius.
Judith Mackrell, dance critic for The Guardian
Michael would be taking classes in the morning and then going out clubbing in the evening. Somehow his head and his body were able to combine those things. He was the interface between those two cultures at a watershed in dance history. He is completely a British product—the Royal Ballet and punk. In a way he was our genius underdog, and we’ve loved him for it.
Leslie Bryant, dancer and choreographer
One day, Michael performed a work-in-progress for me, a solo in a threadbare tutu, Vivienne Westwood bondage shirt and bare feet. I’ve never to this day seen anything so breathtaking, so technically flawless, so beautiful. I was agog. I started to throw things at him and hurl abuse because I was just so moved. And that’s when I could see what everyone else was going on about. He was phenomenal.
Cerith Wyn Evans, artist and filmmaker; performer in Clark’s Hail the New Puritan
He has always somehow been torn between his great respect for the classical tradition and a very powerful, anarchic, iconoclastic drive to expose its hypocrisy.
Charles Atlas, video artist; director of Merce Cunningham: A Lifetime of Dance
Coming of age when there was a more open attitude about being gay, it was something to have fun with and Michael used that. He knew sexuality was taboo.
Jann Parry, former dance critic for The Observer
There was a sense that Michael was actually performing with friends and family––a collection of people who were meaningful to him, lovers past or present, and dancers who were tough enough to bring their own qualities. They were not just unformed clay; they were individuals in their own right. Leigh Bowery was like the drunken uncle at a wedding that no celebration is complete without.