In the parallel (and fictional) universe in which classical ballet emerged in the era of Studio 54 rather than Renaissance Italy, Michael Clark is without a doubt the star choreographer of that world. He’s the natural choice to unite pointe ballet with the music of David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop. Having studied in London in the mid-’70s, Clarke made his name as a bit of a wild child in genre-crossing collaborations with performance artists, fashion designers, directors such as Peter Greenaway and such musicians as Wire, Laibach, and perhaps most unforgettably with the Fall.
Known for mixing brash, inventive and downright sassy choreography with classical ballet vocabulary and the dancers with the chops to do it, Clark has seen his career move in this universe from provocative wunderkind to influential, established talent, just like Iggy Pop, Bowie, and Reed have.
In that parallel universe, I imagine that there are entire schools and sub-genres dedicated to opposing philosophies about how to properly interpret the lo-fi menace of classics like Heroin. We’d see as many seasonal productions of Ziggy Stardust as we do Swan Lake. This particular time in the history of popular music would melt into place with the dance, rather than sticking out as a conversation piece.
I would like to see that universe’s version of this show, which Clark’s company danced for White Bird this weekend. I credit Clark for inventing that universe and taking the first, Major-Tom like steps out into its cosmos. But we are in a universe where “the music of David Bowie” and just the idea of “the Velvet Underground” references a known aesthetic, an existing back catalogue, a certain time and place, and a relatively finite set of expectations—at least finite compared to the mythically-inventive days in which the material for the show was recorded. Bowie himself realizes this, and I wonder how much it weighs on Michael Clark regarding his own career.