Utterly brilliant madness
Things were already a little strange in Michael Clark’s New Work 2012 even before Jarvis Cocker appeared on stage garbed up like a seasick Pirate of the Caribbean. Wielding a whip and handing out sugar mice to the front row, the charismatic ex-frontman of Pulp belted out three songs as lead singer of his Relaxed Muscle combo. He put in such an enthralling performance that he entirely overshadowed the dancers waving three-legged stools around in their eye-jangling Bridget Riley style costumes. In one way this was a shame, in another it was sheer genius.
It was a shame only in that the incredible dancers deserved more of a finale for themselves. It was genius in the sense that it made a perfectly improbable conclusion to a great show in which it was never possible to predict where it was headed.
Opening relatively sedately with a man in a short dress being winched slowly down from the flies to the gentle electronic dub of Scritti Politti, the short first half presented a robotic ballet class with everything marked in straight lines and mechanical precision. Hovering in a teasing netherworld somewhere between homage and parody of classical dance, it was surprisingly pretty to watch, despite Clark himself barging in for a moment to flick ‘v’ signs at one of the dancers.
It was the second half where things went bonkers. If robots tried performing classical choreography to 90s pop music while doped up and dressed in red lycra, it would probably look like the extraordinary first movement. That was followed by some outstanding duets to the sound of warbles, whines and electronic crackles that featured some breathtaking lifts; the one where a plank-flat Harry Alexander lifted Kate Coyne up on his backside was simply amazing. Then things went hallucinogenically weird with random statements about starting a zoo racing around the back projection. Meanwhile Julie Cunningham was comically chased off the stage by a question mark.
Finally Jarvis and his band were revealed, leaving the audience wearing a dribbling mass of helplessly silly grins. Michael Clark – what a showman!
New Work 2012 runs at the Barbican until 27 October 2012. Tickets are available from http://www.barbican.org.uk/