PRINT September 2008


FROM THE BEGINNING, Michael Clark’s soaring aptitude for ballet has been agitated by a voraciously analytic mind and a rebellious spirit. As an adolescent, he trained at London’s Royal Ballet School, where he excelled to the degree that in 1979, at the age of seventeen, he was offered a place in the company. Clark turned down the invitation, thus embarking upon a career guided by a disinclination to propagate the superficial appearance of his form without delving into its meaning—for him personally, for his dancers, for his audience, for our culture. Over the course of three decades, he has repeatedly used the concrete and delimited space of the stage to perform a world of his own making, creating self-portraits that are also allegories of community. These emblematic live tableaux have in turn connected the discrete parts of his life: the Scottish Highland dance he grew up with in his native city of Aberdeen; the ballet academy; the music he listened to; his social scene, at one time centering on nightclubs like the legendary Taboo; his friends, family, and lovers. Yet his most recent enterprise is his most direct reckoning to date with the discipline that underpins his practice: “The Stravinsky Project,” a trilogy of works based on three ballets scored by the great Russian composer, revisits not only the classical dance canon but also the history of Clark’s own corpus in relation to that canon. (While it includes one entirely new work, I Do, 2007, which takes 1923’s Les Noces as its source, the trilogy also features extensively revised versions of Clark’s Mmm . . . , 1992/2006, based on The Rite of Spring, 1913, and O, 1994/2005, based on Apollo, 1928.) The undertaking makes clear the extent to which any understanding of Clark’s long-term enterprise must be predicated on an understanding of ballet. As the work summons Clark’s own history, however, it also points to a larger context for ballet and, further, all the arts: To truly grasp what Clark does, it is necessary to consider, as he has, what this most ritualized and hieratic aspect of high culture means now, or what we understand it to mean.

Clark’s conflicted exploration of dance as instinct, obligation, and symbolic social form was forged in the discordant era of the 1980s and, more specifically, that decade as its tensions played out in the United Kingdom. To gain a sense of the fractured cultural ground upon which he built his practice, one hardly need look further than Margaret Thatcher’s defining pronouncement in the October 1987 issue of Woman’s Own magazine: “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” For while this codification of a populace totally atomized but for filial—and legally sanctioned—relations was being articulated from on high, the mass media was showing things rather differently. News broadcasts, for instance, regularly captured a theater of violent mass confrontation between two organized groups: miners and police, face to face at the picket lines, locked in opposition, putting on clear display forms of kinship superseding these men’s roles as autonomous individuals, or as husbands, fathers, or brothers. At the same time, if these images suggested the existence of far more complex relational networks underlying politics (and even underlying the terms of masculinity) than Thatcher would care to admit, such questions were only amplified in the pop media. A broader disturbance of gender boundaries might have been emerging on the political front, but it was Boy George’s presence on talk shows and in the tabloids—all bandying about the question, Is he a man or a woman?—that brought unprecedented visibility to the mutability of gender and forced the matter in the public consciousness.

Today, it seems clear that this peculiar dialectic of retrenchment and dissolution, coalescing around a contested notion of society, has been fundamental to the development of Clark’s work, which often presents choreography as a tapestry of gestures performed by people acting alternately as a linked unit and as individuals, executing passages of movement and making shapes in synchrony as well as out of time, within the shared space of the stage. Grown from the language of ballet, Clark’s compelling, asymmetrical aesthetic is haunted by the ranked ghosts of fascist militarism—uncomfortably echoed in those television images of civil unrest—and injected with the energy of music video and the period’s flamboyant androgyny.

These not-necessarily-compatible elements were roughly collaged together in his early works, their disparities visible in jagged transitions from classical to folk- or punk-inflected attitudes. It was this eclecticism that gave rise, for example, to the memorable solo Clark performed in I Am Curious, Orange, 1988, a work he created with the Fall’s Mark E. Smith. Among dancers dressed like cans of Heinz baked beans (and a giant hamburger on wheels), he spun from a giddy succession of pirouettes and balletic leaps, which he sped up to match the music’s insistent beat, into a push-up motion resembling break dancing before crawling off stage on his hands and knees. Clark shocked the ballet world with outlandish, cheeky costumes designed by Leigh Bowery or by David Holah and Stevie Stewart of the fashion label Bodymap, and by staging his choreography within outré sets. In a performance captured in filmmaker Charles Atlas’s Hail the New Puritan, 1985–86, his dancers sported garish wigs, oversize dots, colored body paint, and bare butt cheeks. They executed lolloping Tiller Girl high kicks with pointed feet and crossed their forearms in a repetitive succession of aggressive raised-fist salutes, all in front of a backdrop of giant fried eggs and oversize Y-front briefs (designed by Atlas and inspired by the painter Trojan).

Working, then as now, with a close-knit group of friends and collaborators, Clark played explicitly with balletic conventions of uniformity, synchronicity, and the division of gender—his collaborations with the late Bowery being a notable example of the latter propensity. In Clark’s 1992 version of Mmm . . . , Bowery ran melodramatically, and clumsily, arms stretched ahead, from left to right and through the stage set’s revolving doors, his already towering height exaggerated with platform heels, his body shape altered by fake breasts and padding inserted into his typically exuberant costume. Atlas, still a frequent collaborator, here again contributed to the atmosphere with lucid and brilliant lighting design. Clark set his dances to songs by bands he was seeing a lot at the time, such as Wire or the Human League. He created greater complexity in his stagings of group choreography not only through movement itself but by working with performers as individuals, each with his or her own particular qualities. His dancers varied quite a bit in height and size, and not all had typical dancers’ physiques: Kate Coyne, for example, a long-standing member of the company, would be unusually tall for classical ballet. Throughout his career Clark has also called upon nondancers such as his mother, Bessie Clark, or his friend Pauline Daly, as well as the extraordinary Bowery, to perform with him onstage.

Yet even as he has staged implosions of the categories “male” and “female,”and worked in a collaborative spirit, Clark’s work has flaunted a virile masculine energy with an undertow of controlled violence. He has worked with the Slovenian band Laibach, propagators of the strategy of “overidentification” with totalitarian attitudes and famous for executing Nazi salutes onstage, on two works: The 1986 performance for camera Država shows the band members in military-style uniforms, performing their song “The State” in front of a huge, Malevich-like black cross. Staring straight ahead, they dissonantly bark the lyrics (“The state is taking care of the physical education of the nation, especially of the youth . . . All freedom is tolerated. Our authority is that of the people”) and bang aggressively on the drums. Clark, his head shaved, lithe in a Lycra unitard, executes a sequence of technically precise ballet movements in front of the band, spinning and leaping with dizzy lightness. In No Fire Escape in Hell, a stage performance from the same year, Laibach performed while policemen patrolled the stage, discovering a dressed-in-drag Clark’s true gender and adjudicating against it by “arresting” him.

IN ALL THESE EXPERIMENTS—and this is abundantly clear in the material that would be revised for his “Stravinsky Project,” which debuted at the Barbican in London last year and had its US premiere last June at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts—Clark has wrested a productive tension from the contradictions that classical ballet strives to suppress. His dances always return to the first principles of physical being—weight, gravity, sexuality—as a counterpoint to virtuosity and its false appearance of effortlessness. His distortion of ballet’s elegant forms with deliberately ungainly gestures; his contamination of its learned refinement with everyday “found” movement, pop-culture-styled poses, and the stiff, tilted arms typical of traditional Scottish dance; and his preference for heavy, rhythmic music, whether by Stravinsky or the Sex Pistols (or even “Zorba’s Dance”), all indicate Clark’s intuitive understanding of ballet’s origins in pagan ritual and of dance as a drive. In this respect, his fascinated entanglement with The Rite of Spring is central to his project. With its “primitive” forms and the dancers’ awkward, pigeon-toed feet, Vaslav Nijinsky’s Rite radically disrupted audience expectations of “the ballet.” In Mmm . . . , Clark plays doubly upon his source’s radicality and its now-canonic centrality to the discipline. He reinvents The Rite as his own rite of choreographic passage, likening the authority of Stravinsky’s score to “a sort of royal family [or] . . . your mum and dad.”1 His dancers, both male and female, are dressed in kiltlike skirts—a substitution of Scottish tradition and contemporary fashion for Russian folk costume. Their spritely movements are inflected equally by ballet and Highland dance, but the attenuated lines characteristic of both are often cut brutally short by a rudely out-thrust fl at foot or bent knee. Clark rewrites the ballet’s script as well: His “chosen maiden” (danced in the 2007 London production by Melissa Hetherington and in New York by Amy Hollingsworth) appears bare-breasted in a solo of expressive intensity; with her alternately springy and seductively sinuous transitions, often pressing her body close to the floor, she is part ballet dancer, part androgynous gymnast, part erotic striptease artist. She dances on, gradually betraying her extreme exhaustion, but she is not sacrificed as dictated by the original script. Standing strong at the end, she salutes the audience defiantly.

Clark’s interventions suggest an awareness that The Rite of Spring itself is a reflexive work—a ballet about the history and potential future of ballet—and his rewriting of the ending is perhaps a part of his effort to reinvent that script and propose what that future might yet be. Historian Selma Jeanne Cohen has traced ballet’s formal and symbolic evolution from simple dances performed as fertility rites, usually held in the spring in tandem with “mimetic enactments of death and rebirth” by masked performers who incarnated the spirits. Desacralized via the Christian church’s interdiction on pagan spirituality, the performances grew into increasingly elaborate “courtly diversions” in the Italian courts of the Renaissance.2 “In the early sixteenth century these dances are first referred to as balletti, meaning simply a figured dance, a composition characterized by the arrangement of the performers in sequences of changing floor patterns,” she writes. “These were staged, or semistaged, versions of the social dances of the day, some of them originating in the protocol of court etiquette, others stemming from the rough and hearty pleasures of the peasants.”3 Initially performed in large halls where feasts and celebrations took place, ballet began its transition to the pictorial presentation of the proscenium stage only in the late seventeenth century. From that point on, it became increasingly professionalized, and by the nineteenth century it had achieved its modern form: It was a mass spectacle proffering a frontal view of similar, highly trained bodies, often moving in a regimented and repetitive way.

Here, an examination of dance history through the lens of critical theory becomes relevant, even crucial, to the discussion of Clark’s work. It is evident that a parallel can be drawn between the evolution of ballet from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century and Michel Foucault’s analysis of quarantine and penal reform during the same period. In Discipline and Punish (1975), Foucault analyzes the ways in which the conception of punishment shifted over the centuries: from torture carried out on the body of the individual criminal to an economically driven “technology” of “discipline” that policed the criminal’s movements and experience of space and time via militaristic drills, timetables, or exercises. Foucault proposes that this new disciplinary power was made visible in society’s institutional forms—in the lines of pupils filing into schools or in marching ranks of soldiers. The body was newly envisaged as a “cog in a machine,” paving the way for the industrial age. In his History of Sexuality (1976), Foucault describes a concurrent shift in European attitudes toward sex, which stopped being about pleasure and became a more or less utilitarian activity to be pursued within the domestic arena, over which “the legitimate and procreative couple laid down the law.”4 His analysis, very significantly, was taken up in 1988 by scholar Judith Butler in her groundbreaking theorization of gender as a “stylistics of existence”5 and a performative discipline underlying gender “norms.”6 Butler’s concept of gender as a performance carried out in service to “compulsory heterosexuality” ultimately derives from linguistic theories of the “speech act,” a statement in which the action denoted is performed and consummated by the utterance itself—for example, a bride or groom saying, “I do,” or a priest saying, “I now pronounce you man and wife.” And just as speech acts simultaneously describe and create reality, gender’s rehearsed repetition brings gender into being and perpetuates its foregone “naturalness” as a fact.

To consider ballet in light of these theories makes evident that, however anachronistic it might seem as an art form, it is extremely vital as a nexus point for modernity’s internalized notions of individuality versus the group, of discipline, of sexuality, of gender. Far from being a benign fantasy world, “the ballet”—with its creation of images of community, its emphasis on training, regimentation, and precision, its continual maintenance of gender norms and emphasis on heterosexual love—offers us a schematics of modern subjectivity, reinforced by dazzling displays of skill and transporting spectacle. As such, it remains a powerful vehicle for symbolic iteration, the process that sociologist Émile Durkheim identifies as foundational to the ritual generation of collective belief (whether religious or political) that binds a group of disparate individuals together as a “society.” Elaborating on Durkheim’s principles, sociologist Jeffrey C. Alexander has asserted: “Rituals are episodes of repeated and simplified cultural communication in which the direct partners to a social interaction, and those observing it, share a mutual belief in the descriptive and prescriptive validity of the communication’s symbolic contents.”7 This is a potency that Clark seems to recognize.

IN MANY RESPECTS—especially in his attention to the participatory contract between audience and performer (or “entertainer”) as inhabitants of a shared architectural space, and to the continuum between his art and his life—Clark seems to be in active dialogue with Conceptual art practice.8 In particular, one could cite affinities with the artists of the ’60s and ’70s who worked with performance, and with those of the ’90s whom Nicolas Bourriaud characterized in terms of “relational aesthetics.” Clark’s attention to all the facets of the theater experience, including the program and the interval, are indications of these Conceptual correspondences. The program for Oh My Goddess, 2003, noted that the twentieth anniversary of Clark’s dance company was approaching, and stated that, to mark the occasion, he would undertake a performance as an extension of his everyday life: “a work lasting 366 days.” With its photographs of ecstatic crowds punctuating the text, the program recalled Dan Graham’s Performer/Audience/Mirror, 1977, in which Graham reflected his spectators—both literally, with a large mirror, and linguistically, by describing them as they sat before him—in an effort, as he put it, to make his audience see itself as a “public body.” In Would, Should, Can, Did, a 2003 performance at the Barbican, Clark used a recording of the interval gong that usually indicates a performance is about to restart (taken from the Royal Festival Hall) to draw attention to the pedestrian activity of the audience moving about in the auditorium as they took their seats. His dancers gradually appeared onstage and began their performance, in time to the same repetitive sound, before the lights had gone down—an erosion of a conventional division of activities.

But whereas visual artists of the ’90s straightforwardly framed “relations” that were part of the fabric of the everyday (eating, getting a massage, organizing information on a corkboard, and so on) by displacing them into the space of the gallery, Clark grafts the palpable immediacy of relational space onto the ancientness of his symbolic medium. His realm of operation is connected to, but deliberately outside of, everyday life, partaking of the peculiar suspension of disbelief offered uniquely by theater. At the same time, though, there is an implicit recognition of the ’70s feminist critique of the fairy tale and the politics of its fantasy realm. That is to say, his dances reveal ballet’s part in the perpetuation of cultural myths, such as stereotypical notions of giftedness and ethereal femininity. Clark’s manipulations of his form draw our attention to ways in which one might use “the imaginary” as a means to transgress modern society’s demand for rigid subjectivities grounded in ostensible truths. Against the grain of recent art practice, his work proposes that the generation of fantasy is as powerful a tool for the creation of new images and new ways of doing things as intervening in “reality” might be. This nonbinary understanding of the relations between the two realms reveals the role of “performance” underpinning both.

For Clark, it appears (as for Butler), there is no space for performance that escapes artificial construction, no prior way of “being” that is stripped and uninflected. Such a notion is perhaps most evident in the 2005 production of O, the first work in “The Stravinsky Project,” which opens with a single dancer inside a mirrored cube—a staging that recalls the self-consciousness of ballet studio practice and both Bruce Nauman’s and Dan Graham’s technologized “feedback loops,” which spoke of our nascent surveillance society in the ’70s and ’80s. Clark’s “story of O” is, like the erotic novel, a tale of submission, a form of subversive complicity within ballet’s learned movement. (Another of his dances, OO, 2005, features the Sex Pistols track “Submission.”)

The program notes for O describe the piece as Clark’s “ground zero.” “Having taken dance to its Dionysian extreme,” the program reads, referring to his works of the ’80s and ’90s, “Clark wiped the slate clean in a return to order. . . . [He] takes ideas of fullness becoming empty, the hole becoming whole, negative space becoming positive, to create a totally new framework for O.” Contrast this conception of degree zero with the same terms as deployed within the work of those practitioners who are most frequently thought of as having stripped dance to its bare fundamentals: Yvonne Rainer and the other artists and dancers who came together to form the Judson Dance Theater in the ’60s. While Rainer, in dialogue with Steve Paxton, Simone Forti, and others, radically conceived of a stripped-down form of “ordinary” dance movement that borrowed its gestures from everyday activities observed in the street, Clark “wipes the slate clean” by choosing to return to George Balanchine’s Neoclassical ballet Apollo, the source on which O is based. Whereas the Judson dancers wore jeans and sneakers and performed seemingly improvisatory concerts in a community hall, Clark favors unitards and, often, ballet shoes, and performs on a stage. Whereas Rainer, following Merce Cunningham, rejected outright any alignment between the musical score and the dance, Clark reinstates it, identifying his movement, albeit in a frequently offbeat way, with a regulated sense of time and space and choreography that, at times, deliberately makes his dancers appear mechanized and puppetlike.

Rainer articulated her critical position in her famous “No” manifesto of 1965:

NO to spectacle no to virtuosity no to transformations and magic and make-believe no to the glamour and transcendency of the star image no to the heroic no to the anti-heroic no to trash imagery no to involvement of performer or spectator no to style no to camp no to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer no to eccentricity no to moving or being moved.

Clark is attendant to, and expressly influenced by, the legacies of Cunningham and Rainer, but he introduces into his language a complex strand of affirmation regarding those forbidden things. He inhabits the regime of ballet, with its “virtuosity . . . magic and make-believe,” but he does so with an attitude that acknowledges Laibach’s inhabitation of the regime of totalitarianism: that is, with radical complicity.

WHETHER HE HAS WANTED TO OR NOT, Clark has also been forced to negotiate his own complicity with the glamour and seductiveness of the “star image” that the media has demanded he portray. In his analysis of the ritual theater of religion in society, Durkheim cites the importance of an element of the supernatural, or of myth, to conjuring the binding force necessary for common belief. As Andy Warhol recognized, the superstar has supplanted the supernatural as the glue of our secular age. Early on, Clark, who in addition to his talent and critical acuity is possessed of angelic beauty, was identified as a star (labeled, among other things, the “messiah of modern dance”). He became an exceptionally well-known figure for a contemporary dancer, with a poplike fan base; his performances had the intoxicating atmosphere of gigs buzzing with devotees. He appeared frequently in the media, in the UK and internationally, and a number of documentaries were made about him, including Hail the New Puritan, Atlas’s wonderful, exuberant fantasy-biography. He performed as a work of art at Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London in 1989, walked—or danced—the runway alongside Boy George in Bodymap fashion shows in the ’80s, and, in recent years, modeled for Alexander McQueen.

Accordingly, Clark’s personal biography—his addictions, recuperative absences, lovers—have never been far from any reading of his work onstage, and indeed, he has played to his audience’s knowledge of his life. In Sophie Fiennes’s 2000 documentary, The Late Michael Clark, a glimpsed newspaper headline reads: “Michael Clark’s back from the brink.” It is a recurrent theme. In Current/See, his 1998 return to performing after a period of withdrawal and recovery, Clark appears onstage alone and begins to perform to a rhythmic drone of bass guitar, working, painfully slowly, through a passage of movement, centered in the pelvis, that mixes ballet exercises and yoga. At one point, he elevates his posture on tiptoe and then lets his toes curl under his foot, crushing them in what would appear to be an agonizing position. Subsequently, he appears in a hospital gown (recalling Rainer’s 1967 Convalescent Dance) before the pace of the choreography builds and soars and he is joined by other dancers. In Would, Should, Can, Did, Clark had himself moving tentatively onstage, as though he could no longer dance, to the alternating sound tracks of canned laughter and booing. Curator Alison Gingeras has analyzed the “cult of personality” that artists such as Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Martin Kippenberger deliberately developed as a facet of their work, framing it in terms of those artists’ rejection of the bohemian milieu in favor of society’s mainstream. Bohemia, Gingeras writes, is a concept that originated with the “quarantining” of artists (or other marginalized minorities) in a fictional other sphere: “[Its invention in] nineteenth-century France provided an efficient means to prevent artists from ‘contaminating’ everyone else.”9 Despite his cult following, Clark appears to be as unsatisfied with the Koonsian outright rejection of bohemia as he is with the bohemian rejection of the mainstream. He stages his own image as a conflation of the gifted, make-believe superstar and Foucault’s “quarantined” deviant, performing drag, illness, and decrepitude. He has the brilliance of touch that would enable him to evoke the sublime, but often—knowingly inducing frustration— he pulls back before permitting his audience to reach it. In an inspired Warholian moment in Fiennes’s documentary, Clark is asked whether he is a “dance anarchist.” He hesitates, and artist Cerith Wyn Evans, standing next to him, prods him: “Just say yes, Michael!” “Yes!” Clark says. As this exchange perversely demonstrates, one of the ways in which Clark has found freedom within his discipline is by playing a game with the burden of expectations that has been placed upon him—by, he says, “never living up to [them].” 10

What, then, of the affirming title of Clark’s most recent work? I Do, the conclusion of “The Stravinsky Project,” is a twenty-five-minute work based on Les Noces, choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska in 1923. In its original form, the ballet is a wedding ritual in four parts that acts out, as an elaborate danced ceremony, the “consecration of the bride” and groom, “the departure of the bride,” and “the wedding feast.” Nijinska’s choreography is drawn from gestures associated with two different ideological communities: the old Russian peasantry, with its rituals and folk dance, and the Soviet proletariat, with its martial protests. In her set design, male and female dancers are separated on different sides of the stage in abstract geometric configurations, coming fully together only at the end in an ambiguously static—rather than joyously celebratory—tableau that emblematizes the binding of society via the marital union.

In Clark’s work, Nijinska’s corps de ballet is reinvented onstage by a full choir, whose members appear in two blocks that mirror, at reduced scale, the position of the seated audience. The choreography uses shapes and poses drawn from Nijinska’s original, but deliberately scrambles its legibility: Male and female dancers alike wear unitards that match their skin color, crisscrossed with satin stripes that resemble both a form of bodily scarification and the ribbons on women’s pointe shoes. Choreographic floor patterns constantly shift and merge across the stage, thrilling in their complexity. Simple configurations of bodies emerge; small groups of dancers rotate in circular formation, join hands in a line, soar in spritelike synchronous movement, or whirl away from each other with arms erect and dissolve into the larger group. Clark uses the music’s rhythmic passages to effect sharp changes of pose, exaggerating the languidly automated quality of his dancers’ bodies, as though mimicking a succession of photographs in a slide show.

Near the beginning of I Do, the bride (danced at the Barbican and at Lincoln Center by Kate Coyne), walking stiffly on pointe, is escorted off stage by two other dancers via a lit passageway between the two groups of singers. Whereas Nijinska’s piece concludes by demonstrating the tightly bound social tapestry of the wedding tableau, Clark has his evenly spaced male and female dancers execute a series of asymmetrical, rhythmic poses, in unison, but separately, like a mass gymnastic workout or an installation of abstract living sculptures. The ballerina “bride” appears once more, standing center stage in total, petrified stillness, encased in a re-creation of an Yves Saint Laurent wedding gown that is phallic in shape and adorned with embroidery.

This work is the fullest exposition of Clark’s choreography in a pure sense, and also his most complex negotiation of the politics of form. His staging of ballet and of the logic of group “discipline” in relation to a wedding ritual, as a basic unit of social cohesion, exposes something fundamental in his practice. If the activity of dancing as an urgent passion is clear in his work, ballet is “the law” with and against which that desire can operate. The ballerina bride is aligned visually with disciplined constriction, both in the wearing of pointe shoes and in her confinement in the dress. However, while Clark stages, and recognizes, ballet’s legislation of desire, here he also makes clear that ballet does not exist outside his actions or, more broadly, outside the actions of dancers and choreographers in general. Ballet itself is a “speech act” in Butler’s sense, an utterance that creates a reality.

Critic Randy Martin has written of the singularity of dance in this respect: “Whereas theater can be scripted and music scored, lending some credence to a separation of sign and referent in these performance idioms, choreography is most commonly realized only in and as dance . . . representation and reference are made one.”11 The idea of ballet as law haunts Clark, but I Do recognizes, affirmatively, that such authority only exists within its repeated practice and enunciation, transmitted from individual body to individual body over time. Like gender and other facets of subjectivity, we, and he, performatively effect it via our own creative actions. With its muted costumes and historical underpinnings, I Do appears to be a long way from Clark’s early performances. But the work conjures, from dance, a picture of a society with its own culture and economy of relations, one that does not claim the purity of modernism, or perpetuate the modern reproductive utility that underpins the “I do” of Foucault’s “heterosexual contract.” Clark’s doing imagines an economy of movement that slides, curves, drags, and bends around the rules of its making, scattering surplus energy in all directions. His aesthetic allows for an element of pleasure in wastage. Clark’s dancers come in and out of synchrony as a group, but they defy the domineering simplification of group logic; they are not all working to one end. In I Do, Clark does not comment critically on the world from an “other” position, nor does he mimetically represent the world as it is. He materializes a new symbolic world that—exquisitely, powerfully, differently—does.

Catherine Wood is curator of contemporary art and performance at Tate Modern, London.


1. Michael Clark, interview with Martin Barber, BBC Norfolk, May 7, 2008.

2. Selma Jeanne Cohen, Dance as a Theatre Art: Source Readings in Dance History from 1581 to the Present (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Book Company, 1992), 6.

3. Ibid., 6.

4. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality (New York: Vintage, 1990), 4.

5. Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory (1988),” in Sue Ellen Case, ed., Performing Feminisims: Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), 272.

6. Ibid., 275.

7. Jeffrey C. Alexander, “Culture Pragmatics: Social Performance Between Ritual and Strategy,” in Social Performance: Symbolic Act, Cultural Pragmatics, and Ritual (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 29.

8. Catherine Wood, “Let Me Entertain You,” Afterall 9 (2004): 36–44.

9. Alison M. Gingeras, “The Lives of Artists: Beyond the Cult of Personality—The Emergence of Public Persona as an Artistic Medium,” 2007,

10. Michael Clark, interview with Cerith Wyn Evans, Dazed & Confused (November 1998): 144.

11. Randy Martin, “Dance and Its Others: Theory, State, Nation, and Socialism,” in André Lepecki, ed., Of the Presence of the Body: Essays on Dance and Performance Theory (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004), 48.