One of those people who rather exploded into the cultural scene in the 1980s, vanished in the 90s and has now embedded as an icon of dance has filled the huge art gallery space at the Barbican.

Michael Clark is one of those people given a classical training who took those skills and used his innate genius to create entirely new genres of dance — and often deliberately provocative with them.

If men dressed as harlequin women, bums hanging out, and lots of nudity are your thing, then Michael Clark was probably someone you avidly followed in the 80s. He vanished into a drug rehabilitation zone back home in Scotland for so long that when he returned to London, his warehouse full of his archive had been sold due to unpaid storage fees.

These days the dance he pioneered is almost conventional, and the dancer himself has a CBE — but it’s still a mark of establishment acceptance that he now has an exhibition at the Barbican, where his dance company is also based.

Huge screens fill the space with videos overlapping and contrasting with each other in a blast of sound and light that can be disorienting, but slowly becomes comfortable. The soundtrack follows you around the gallery, and it delights to hear Venus in Furs on repeat, mainly as it reminds me of (probably) the best television advert ever made.

The ground floor is mainly given over to a visual and auditory onslaught — and giant tins of Heinz beans — but aiming to give a flavour of the dance that the man put on.

Upstairs is more subtle, with the rooms going into more details about some of his more famous works, and other artists interpretations of the man and the dancer.

A waist down sculpture of the man sitting on a toilet holding a cigarette all mounted on top of a bland sandwich is an odd sight, even here, and seems very out of place.

Elsewhere though, the costumes, the relics of old shows, and a huge space filled with the ephemera of past shows are much more relevant.

It is the nature of the art form that it’s not easily something you can look at and move on, and there’s a lot of video archives to watch. It’s been estimated that someone could spend a whole day here watching absolutely everything — and the inability to skip ahead does mean that most people are likely to miss something interesting.

But it delivers a flavour of what makes the dancer so interesting.

The slight disappointment is that there is very little here about the person behind the dance masque, the life story and the reasons to explain why he is such a good dancer and leader of a dance company. You’re presumed to already know — although considering the entry to the exhibition costs £15-£17, most attendees probably know who they are about to see.

The exhibition, Michael Clark Cosmic Dancer is open until 3rd January — tickets need to be booked in advance from here.


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