Individuality but not satisfaction

Michael Clark Company
27 October—4 November
Barbican Theatre, London

“Eternal Love”
Anastasia Volochkova
30 October
Sadler's Wells, London

by John Percival
copyright 2006 by John Percival

MMM = Michael's Modern Masterpiece. Michael Clark first tackled Stravinsky's “Rite of Spring” when he was 30 and had been making choreography for ten years, not only for his own company but for the Paris Opera, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, and in Britain for Scottish Ballet, London Festival Ballet, Ballet Rambert and Phoenix Dance; he was widely recognised as our best creative and performing talent. That was in 1992. He has since had a period of inactivity (drugs were to blame), then latterly has made less frequent productions in which his own entries—yes, he still appears prominently—are less demanding. Appointed an artistic associate of London's Barbican Centre, he is undertaking a three-part Stravinsky project. Last year's “O”, built around “Apollo”, and this year's “MMM...” (“Rite”) are both reworkings of earlier productions, neither of them looking as good as before, even though he has a larger company this year.

The solo at the end of “Rite” would, I think, have looked marvellous if it could have been danced by the young Clark, with his meticulous, swift and voluptuous movement. But it doesn't so well suit Amy Hollingsworth, who has just left Rambert Dance to join both Clark and also Rafael Bonachela's new company. She has to dance it wearing only a large pair of knickers and a false Hitler moustache. Clark seems always to have liked including nudity in his shows (not generally for himself, just the other dancers) and in the first half of “MMM...” he has them naked except for big furry gauntlets with which they hide their genitals. This first half is performed mostly to rock music from some years back, but for the nudes, amusingly, he has chosen “Send in the Clowns”.

The Stravinsky music, of course, was written for an orchestra larger than can be afforded here (“Apollo” last year was able to use an excellent small orchestra) so it is played, live, in the version for two pianos. Myself, I find this boring, even though the arrangement was the composer's own, and it detracts from the ballet's effect. So, I must say, does the curious setting by Clark and Steven Scott: a back wall with six doors in it, repeatedly opening and closing for dancers' appearances. Apropos appearances, I wonder why they are made to wear yarmulkes, and little reflectors attached to their noses; but the most reprehensible was dressing Clark himself as a w.c., also as what might have been a polar bear or a snowman—or perhaps even a man-sized condom with arms. But the worst of this was that it bore no relation to the music, other than sometimes a step-for-note correspondence. Style, mood, content? Forget it. Is this any way to commemorate Stravinsky?

Clark's official press night coincided with a one-off performance at Sadler's Wells by Anastasia Volochkova in aid of St Petersburg Secondary School No 458, which has a high proportion of pupils with health problems—bones or vision—and also concentrates on their artistic talents. It has, besides, an “Anastasia” ballet club and a Volochkova museum. Well, this show raised some support for the school from several sponsors, and of course permitted the ballerina to be seen in London, however briefly—with, thanks to the clash, no press coverage.

Publicity claimed that the performance, entitled “Eternal Love”, told the story of a woman seeking a dream, but that isn't how it came over. What we saw was a series of separate numbers, with Volochkova dancing in most of them. The speed with which she changed her get-up between (or even sometimes during) items was impressive: around a dozen costumes, and varied decorations on her blonde hair, in less than two and a half hours. I guess that her dresser really would have deserved a curtain call.

The ballerina's entries were supplemented by numbers from an unimpressive tenor and an uninspired Bolshoi character dancer, Yuliana Malkhasyants. A dozen good dancers from the Russian State Ballet also contributed; their Victoria Rodionova made a cute, lively heroine in an extract from Petipa's comic “Cavalry Halt”, courted by three officers who in turn pull rank to partner her. The evening's best male dancing, too, came from some of their chaps, standing out first in the Prologue. Then Vitaly Manin, Anton Geyker and Dmitry Protsenko were featured in two nicely contrasted numbers by their director Viacheslav Gordeyev.

Volochkova's three featured partners, Rinat Arifulin and Mark Peretokin from the Bolshoi, Yevgeni Ivanchenko from the Mariinsky, were consequently somewhat outclassed, but deserve credit for lifting this tall woman around so tirelessly, mostly in rather weird dances by her regisseur, Edvald Smirnov, and other unfamiliar choreographers, of whom Paul Chalmer was probably the best with “I regret nothing” to some Piaf songs. The (unintentionally) funniest was Mario Radakovsky's portrait of a composer and muse, with prominent participation of a piano and sheets of music. The strangest was Smirnov's “Sicilian Man”: I'd dearly like to know what that was meant to be about, with its removal of jewels and garments. Other choreographers were Dmitry Briantzev, Yuri Khisamov and our old friend Gorsky.

Volochkova's only classic excerpt was the usual duet from “Esmeralda”, after (way after) Petipa, which she danced with Ivanchenko and a tambourine. It's a pity that her multiple appearances were not matched by varied movement: there were mainly jumps (none of them vastly high, although adequately light), frequent high-kicking leg extensions, and some turns. Oh, and there were quite a few rather flirtatious walks on pointe which she seems to have adopted as a curious signature step. The house was moderately but not entirely full to start, and rather less full after the intermission.

Photos, from top:
Mmm...Amy Hollingsworth by Hugo Glendinning.
Anastasia Volochkova.

Volume 4, No. 39
November 6, 2006

copyright ©2006 John Percival



©2006 DanceView