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Clark & Company Don't Do Much At The Doolittle

September 07, 1987|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | Times Music/Dance Critic

The official festival hype was staggering. Michael Clark, the controversial and much-labeled if not much-libeled post-mod new-wave avant-garde pretty-punk firebrand of British ballet, was going to be a sensation. Make that a capital S .

And if he couldn't be one, he'd make one.

He possesses, it says right here in the unblushing brochure, "the charisma of a young Nureyev or Nijinsky."

He is, we are told, the "first superstar" of his genre.

He "shatters stereotypes by reassigning male and female dance steps."

Don't stop. There's more. "Spiked with flamboyance, irreverence, wild humor, occasional nudity and, above all, astonishing virtuoso dancing, the work of Michael Clark & Co. aims to shock, question and innovate."

Just to be sure we all got the point, the festival circulated a breathless news flash on the eve of Clark's West Coast debut. Our dauntless hero, it seems, had been banished from Disneyland because his "seemingly revealing attire was not appreciated by Mickey and Minnie."

Can you believe it, Aunt Bertha?

One approached the Doolittle Theatre on Friday night with some trepidation. Would this self-propelled 25-year-old iconoclast from Scotland really manage to shock, innovate and question?

We certainly hoped so.

Would he be outrageous, brilliant, decadent, insightful, talented?

We crossed our fingers.

Bother! He wasn't any of the above. He was merely puerile, fatuous, eclectic, prim (everything is relative), pretentious, hard-working and, some of the time, obnoxious. So much for fervent hopes dashed on the rocks of despair.

The first half of the evening was devoted to something called "Pure Pre-Scenes." It was subtitled "No Way Post," and sub-subtitled "Very Pure, Very Pre, Very Seeing What You Mean." It must be very deep.

The choreographer here was Clark but, surprise, the central player turned out to be a well-padded designer-dancer-pianist-Divine-look-alike named Leigh Bowery. He pranced about the stage in deeply decolletaged drag, played some Chopin on the piano, clumsily fondled an enormous, leaky, non-symbolic, comic phallus, chatted with and leered at his colleagues, and invoked indulgent images of a not-too-hasty pudding.

Meanwhile, Clark and his small leotarded ensemble got involved in klutzy Pilobolus-esque body tangles when they weren't executing hand-me-down Cunningham maneuvers or chopping vegetables. At the same time, a slide show offered assorted contrasting images: dirty words, pictures of vegetables, a valentine, a real heart, a smirking Barry Manilow--things like that.

Oops, almost forgot. During one lengthy segment, a female voice on the p.a. system offered an anti-erotic monologue. It may have been one of those evil porn messages that, they tell me, aficionados receive when they dial certain telephone numbers beginning with 976.

Boring.

After intermission came "Now Gods," the last desperate act of a full-length opus called "No Fire Escape in Hell."

For all we know, these "Gods" may be wonderfully crazy if viewed in proper context. As isolated here, however, they did not fascinate, they did not outrage, they did not even stimulate. They merely bludgeoned.

Clark enforced a lot of jumping, contorting, twirling and floor-pounding here. An almost graceful dancer attracted passing interest by wearing a costume that substitutes a circle of fake legs for a tutu. Sleazy posturing provided counterpoint. Clark joined six of his colleagues in a network of anonymous but obviously strenuous Angst routines.

While this was happening downstage, Laibach, a poker-faced rock band from Yugoslavia held the upstage fort in front of an ominous black cross.

Actually, the band, anything but laid-back, held the stage fortississississimo. Over-amplified way beyond the pain threshold, the players chanted and grunted and thumped with militaristic--no, fascistic--fervor.

Perhaps this Libra should have paid attention to his horoscope on Friday. The warning was clear: "Avoid a friend who is too noisy."

When the music didn't alienate, blinding spotlights from the stage did. It all probably meant something. But, for at least one unwilling victim, it was just too unfocused, too incoherent, too undisciplined to warrant lingering involvement.

Contrary to expectations, incidentally, the tippy-toed emperor of raunch wore clothes. Sorry, Aunt Bertha.

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