A lyric from David Bowie’s anthem “The Jean Genie” which closed the Michael Clark Company show at Irvine Barclay Theatre exhorted the glam rockers and punks of yesteryear to “Let yourself go”! Had there been some letting go early on, it might have juiced up the long, slow-burning arc of Clark’s two-act work Come, Been and Gone. Instead the whole remained defiantly remote and fenced in by studied, hyper-methodical movement.
The bones and presentation of Clark’s choreography reveal a demonstrable debt to Merce Cunningham. On Sunday’s performance that debt was everywhere apparent, from the ubiquitous unitards, to wearable sets, and pitching, tilting body geographies. Add to it music and movement that appear assembled for handy effect rather than togetherness. The ghost of the Cunningham/Cage collaboration always seemed close at hand.
Both sections of the program leaned hard on electronic soundscapes and music by Wire, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Bowie. Faring best were sections of Act II “Heroes” (which was backed by video projections of Bowie) and “The Jean Genie” an ensemble production piece that pulled out stops that had lain dormant through most of the program. Clever costumes, black on black with shoulder jackets for “Heroes” (Stevie Stewart and Michael Clark) riffed on Bowie’s look in the projected video. The gold sheen of the unit suits in “Aladdin Sane” and the reflections off the orange cyclorama were eventually layered with striped jackets for “The Jean Genie”. A brief episode of duelling toes shoes for a male and female dancer, and some nudity tricked out the performance. Both acts were lit by Clark’s longtime designer Charles Atlas, a filmmaker and frequent Cunningham collaborator.
Clark himself appeared briefly in a cheeky on-stage performance piece titled “Intermission”. Later, he trolled the back of the stage as a human water fountain. Sections of Act I “Swamp” date from the ‘80s and was originally made for Ballet Rambert. This youngish crew of dancers found the ritualistic, thrashed edges of Clark’s ideas in the work’s updated remake. They were uniformly accomplished as was the refined, beautifully-designed flow of solo, mixed duos, and ensemble sections. The company was enthusiastically applauded by Sunday’s audience. Their U.S. tour moves on with performances for White Bird.