Choreographer Michael Clark talks to us about his new work at Tramway
After the success of his Barrowlands Project, and with a world premiere at Tramway on the horizon, choreographer Michael Clark tells Kelly Apter how it feels to be back in his native Scotland
Michael Clark was 13 when he moved to London. Leaving behind his family in Aberdeen to join the Royal Ballet School, he could scarcely have known what lay ahead: a brief spell at Rambert, before launching his own company to create some of the most ground-breaking and entertaining choreography of the past three decades.
Having turned 50 this June, Clark has spent more time in the English capital than he ever did in Scotland. Yet right now, it feels as though the prodigal son is coming home. In 2009 a new work, come, been and gone, was unveiled at the Edinburgh International Festival; The Barrowlands Project, the first piece of dance Clark has created in Scotland for over 25 years, has just closed the 2012 Cultural Olympiad north of the border; and this October the world premiere of his new work will take place in Glasgow.
Almost 40 years after he said goodbye to it, does Scotland still feel like home? ‘It does in many, many ways,’ says Clark, with the tenderest of Scottish accents, ‘more so than London. What I like about London is the anonymity, but what I found in Glasgow during The Barrowlands Project is a genuine interest in other people, and a sense of caring. Making work here has felt very positive. It’s been very much with Creative Scotland, and I’ve felt there is a lot of support there, so I hope it can continue.’
Part community venture, part stunning dance show, The Barrowlands Project opened with 45 non-dancers performing Clark’s choreography. From there, his remarkable troupe of professionals took over, and used every space on the Barrowlands dancefloor in increasingly inventive ways. But with just three performances, for all that beautiful choreography to disappear into the annals of dance history would be a crime.
Happily, site-specific though the project was, elements of the show will find themselves in the as-yet-untitled New Work 2012 at Tramway. Clark won’t have the audience sitting on three sides, or large columns to dance up against, as he did at Barrowlands. But, as with everything he creates, Clark is busy planning where the piece will go next.
‘A big part of the new work is about duets,’ he explains. ‘So what we were doing with the columns at Barrowlands is actually possible with a partner. A lot of the time when I’m choreographing I go into the studio on my own and work with the barre, thinking of it as a partner, so that will all translate into duets. And where people were viewing it from three sides at Barrowlands, I’ll make things work from the front.’
One of the most compelling aspects of Clark’s choreography is how incredibly complex it looks. Not just to us, sitting on the sidelines, but for the dancers – the effort required to deliver his quirky, angular movement, long balances and broad stretches, is clearly visible on their faces.
‘Yes, I seem to make all the most perverse choices that a choreographer could make,’ says Clark. ‘And I think maybe I have to step back from that and try to do something more natural. Because it seems like there’s one decision after another making it harder and harder for them, and I want there to be some pleasure involved for the dancers, too.’
Whether Clark manages to demand less of his dancers in the future remains to be seen, although nobody joins his company looking for an easy ride. But while the young bodies performing his work are in peak condition, coming to terms with his own reduced capabilities is a fact of life for Clark. It was great to see him drift in and out of the performance at Barrowlands, but an entire show is now beyond his reach.
‘I kind of think of myself as a non-dancer now,’ says Clark. ‘I’m limited in my own movement, so the challenge for me now is to work with the bodies in front of me, and the lack of limitation that they have. If I can’t do it myself, then I don’t think it’s fair to ask somebody else to do it – but that’s something I have to get over.’
Choreography aside, Clark will once again be working with the projections and lighting of renowned designer Charles Atlas, and incredible costumes of Stevie Stewart for his Tramway show. Because opening in Glasgow isn’t viewed by Clark as a warm-up for later in the tour – far from it.
‘Glasgow is very important to me,’ he says. ‘It’s not somewhere to try things out. Some people think of outside London as being "elsewhere", well I don’t think of Glasgow like that. Glasgow is a wonderful place in its own right.’
Michael Clark Dance Company: New Work 2012, Tramway, Glasgow, Thu 4–Sat 6 Oct, 7.30pm.