Micheal Clark: Cosmic Dancer at the Barbican Centre


Punk dancer and choreographer, Michael Clark, is celebrated in all his unconventional glory at the Barbican Centre’s latest major art exhibition. Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer runs across both floors of the main gallery, taking guests through the immensely creative mind of this man who helped shaped contemporary dance throughout the 80’s, 90’s and early 00’s.

He’s known for taking classically trained dancers and ripping up the rule book when it comes to what they should be performing and how they should go about it.

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Ellen van Schuylenburch and Michael Clark

He brought fun back into dance, interspersing it with queer culture, androgyny and a hyper personalised punk aesthetic. And all of this is portrayed in a brilliantly overwhelming way, right from the outset of the exhibition.

You’re confronted with nine large screens hanging from the ceiling, as well as four smaller ones dotted about the space. Each plays a different part of a series of videos taken by Charles Atlas, a long-term collaborator of Clark, with music and interviews layered on top.

Spin your head around as you wander through the largest section of the exhibit, getting a fantastical cross-section of Michael Clark (the man) and his immense back catalogue of professional work. You don’t need to know anything about him beforehand as you’ll instantly understand why he is so beloved within the dance world.

His playful performances create a really elegant contrast between the classical and contemporary (both culturally and with dance more specifically). Professionally trained dancers move about the screens in drag, dressed up as dinosaurs and all kinds of other marvellously quirky characters.

It’s difficult to know where to rest your gaze as so much is going on, on each screen. But this is a part of the exhibit’s charm – you come to feel as if you are within Clark’s own mind to a certain degree, seeing him take inspiration from so many different genres. You are flooded with all kinds of performances, all at once. You can’t help but be mesmerised by it all.

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Wander about the massive video installation before exploring other parts of the exhibition. Photo by Tim Whitby.

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And it continues beyond this space as the music and the video installation itself can be heard and seen from most other parts of the exhibition. You’ll be looking back, glimpsing different parts of the Charles Atlas section as you move through each other room. It’s a testament to the curators who really brought all of this together in an organised but still free flowing way – much like Clark’s own work.

You move forward through different collaborations and specific performances which he is best known for, being immersed in his abstract set designs and costumes. But they have purposely left descriptions of Clark and his work off the walls as to limit people crowding around each other. Either grab a physical copy of the explanations or go digital with it all.

This way, you can really take your time learning of his personal life and career. But you can equally walk about just admiring the videos, photography, paintings, sculptures and costumes without much context.

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Michael Clark at the opening of the new exhibit. Photo by Tim P. Whitby

Clark was always one for letting his work speak for itself. Not offering in-depth analyses of his performances. Letting viewers take what they want from it all themselves. You can do the same at Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer.

Let the exhibit wash over you. You surely won’t be disappointed when experiencing this formidable artist disrupt contemporary culture through his playful punk style of movement, with its roots in queer and gender fluid expression. You can’t help but become infatuated with him.

Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer runs at the Barbican Centre until 3 January 2021.

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