A beautiful, strange cacophony awaits in the very first room of this major new exhibition for V&A Dundee, the Scottish premier of a show first seen at the Barbican in London.
It explores the work of Michael Clark, a dancer and choreographer who was raised on a farm in rural Aberdeenshire, but who took the world of British contemporary dance by storm in the 1980s by building a reputation as a ‘punk dancer’.
The plentiful visual examples of Clark’s work given here show why.
A Prune Twin (or New Puritan)
On nine large projector screens hanging from the ceiling, the grand opening installation is by the video artist and friend of Clark’s, Charles Atlas.
It’s an edited fusion of his past films on the dancer Hail the New Puritan and Because We Must. It’s called A Prune Twin, an anagram of New Puritan.
In it, the handsome young shaven-headed Clark is interviewed in his flat, on the very cusp of fame.
A group of orange-clad dancers bounce and roll around a pub to the knees-up sound of I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.
Another pair – one of them the famed designer and drag performer Leigh Bowery – recreate a weird but comedic bondage scene dressed in body suits which evoke 1970s curtain fabric, while the Velvet Underground’s Venus in Furs roars away.
Somewhere in the background, Because by the Beatles twinkles.
Later in the exhibition, Clark says he’s always been more interested in the music world than the dance one, and it’s this connection which helps give his work its punk edge.
Perhaps his most famous work is I Am Curious Orange, a rock ballet about William of Orange, Scottish sectarianism and consumer culture. A whole room is dedicated to it here.
It features the giant burger and fries seen onstage at the Edinburgh Festival in 1988, while footage of Clark’s company and the Fall performing the show growls in the background.
Big Bottom’s sound roars out
Elsewhere a completely darkened room contains Sophie Fiennes’ film of current/SEE, a 1998 performance by Clark’s company sound-tracked by musician Susan Stenger’s five-piece group of electric bass players, Big Bottom.
It roars from the amps, as though the viewer’s at the front of a rock concert.
As well as plenty of detail on Clark’s life and work, many of his collaborators are profiled, including Atlas, Bowery and the artist Sarah Lucas.
Vibrant, queer, strange and raw like the best punk, this show is essential for anyone with a taste for underground pop cultural history.
Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer is at V&A Dundee until September 4. www.vam.ac.uk/dundee