Michael Clark was a streetwise angel of a dancer, leaving the Royal Ballet school in 1979 before his finals and dancing his first solo in a Richard Alston piece for the Ballet Rambert just two years later. As a choreographer, he preserved the delicacy of classical ballet but added a lightness, a joyful collegiality devoid of self-regard. He collaborated with an entire generation of 1980s and 1990s club kids, costumiers, designers, musicians, film-makers, artists and theatre-makers from Leigh Bowery to the Fall, thriving in the era of Blitz kids, Bowie and Buffalo boys, in a rough-edged, pre-smartphone Britain that is much missed and long gone.
Cosmic Dancer memorialises Clark’s life and work, but there is a weird disconnect, a diffusion and dank lack of effervescence. Without the planned (but now, sadly, cancelled) programme of live performances and talks, his freshness is lost. The exhibition is like a deconstructed documentary. A vast archive of Michael Clark Company performance footage and interviews and the giant hanging screen display devised by artist Charles Atlas are being presented at a time when the entire nation is screen-fatigued.
Upstairs the work is more tangible but less relevant. Numerous contemporary artists have contributed work inspired by or related to Clark. Among them are a pleasing row of delicately punkish costumes by designers BodyMap, a characterful Peter Doig portrait of Le Corbusier from the set of Clark’s 2009 come, been and gone production and some stylised, gorgeously soft-edged images of dancers created for this exhibition by German artist Silke Otto-Knapp.
I overheard an attendee ask their friend: “So, he’s dead, is he?” That’s the problem with being a wunderkind: there’s nothing left but death, disappearance or demise. The thing is, Michael Clark is alive, still working and only in his 50s. Nonetheless, there is a strange memorial feel to Cosmic Dancer, a lurking implication that Clark’s moment petered out 20 years ago.