Michael Clark’s latest programme of dance is created to a mixed bag of music. Starting sedately with sculptured shapes set against the four piano studies by Erik Satie that are known collectively as the Ogives; before moving into a triptych of Patti Smith punk rock songs, shaped in movement against an adaption of Charles Atlas’ Painting by Numbers art installation; it concludes with a memorable tribute to the music of David Bowie in the enigmatically entitled, my mother, my dog and Clowns !, which I understand to be taken from a Bowie lyric.

Harry Alexander and Benjamin Warbis, <i>to a simple, rock ’n’ roll . . . song</i> © Hugo Glendinning
Harry Alexander and Benjamin Warbis, to a simple, rock ’n’ roll . . . song
© Hugo Glendinning

Now 54, Clark’s name is followed by an acronym that represents the height of the British Establishment; he, having been appointed Commander of the British Empire, back in 2014, for services to dance. Clark may have reached this stage of public recognition just shy of a knighthood but he retains – thankfully – an iconoclastic image. Although, touchingly, this “wild child” of British dance still thanks his mum and dad (Bessie and Bill), in the programme. 

The bared bums and brash punkery, which made his mark, in highly theatrical, often deconstructed and always visually spectacular works, from the 1980s onwards, have now given way to more measured, sedate, almost reverential movement that sculpts beautiful shapes in the interaction of bodies and space.  

The opening work, in particular, appears to reflect choreographic influences that impacted upon Clark’s own development: we see shades of Frederick Ashton (especially from the two Monotones duets, also set to Satie’s music in the more familiar Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes) and Yvonne Rainer (whose own work, Three Satie Spoons – also set to the Trois Gymnopédies - is clearly referenced in Clark’s Satie Suds/Ogives Composite). But, for me, this opening number to Satie appears more as a tribute to Merce Cunningham – with one MC celebrating another – to such an extent that if I had seen it without a choreographic credit I might have assumed it to be by Cunningham.

To be slightly brutal, the first few minutes were not performed well. A work that relies on shape to convey its message must be articulated robustly so that the intended sculptured forms are received by the audience, as intended. Unfortunately, there were significant balancing problems (especially from the girls) and the resultant wobbles diminished the choreography's initial impact. The eight dancers are dressed in tight bodysuits – black up to just under the chest and white above, to the neckline – giving the image of extreme high-waisted trousers. Harry Alexander is impressive here – and later – with none of those balancing problems and, instead, a security of strength that is put to frequent use in several lifts and holds. For a big guy, he runs as if weightless.    

Satie Suds/Ogives Composite is choreographed with cool elegance and clear lines but mixed with niche moments of eccentricity; the composition seems to be autobiographical in an account of Satie; a composer who exhibited eccentric behaviours that may now be seen as OCD and produced these beautiful piano works that range from calm, serene clarity to reverberating dissonance. It is said that his inspiration for the Ogives came from the curves and arches in the gothic windows of Notre Dame Cathedral. I’d love to see these dances again but without the opening imperfections of delivery. 

After a brief pause, we are hit by the voice of Patti Smith as Clark returns to punk for inspiration in Land, made to the eponymous three-part song/poem from Smith’s 1976 studio album, Horses. The ten-minute track is matched with a version of Atlas’ video installation that features tens of thousands of singleton numbers, spewing into flowing shapes. The choreography gives full vent to the pulsating, driving force of both the music and the exploding numbers on screen; danced with great sensual power, in tight, black, PVC flares (these costumes, as all others for the evening, designed by Stevie Stewart and Clark himself).

The final work featured four songs by Bowie, beginning, poignantly, with one of his last (Blackstar) and finishing with the iconic sounds of Aladdin Sane (from 1973). That glam rock era is reflected in the dancers’ silver outfits. Clark makes his own cameo appearances, initially dodging in-and-out of the wings before dragging the inert body of a dancer from the stage; perhaps he is starting a trend towards becoming the Alfred Hitchcock of dance direction (the great film director famously appeared as an extra – or a photograph – in most of his movies). 

This is a beautifully observed tribute to Bowie, performed with gorgeous sensitivity and gymnastic athleticism. Oxana Panchenko has graced London stages for almost 20 years, notably as the Balletboyz & George Piper Dances’ only girl and – since 2009 – with Clark’s Company; and she is stunning – not to mention, apparently ageless – throughout this work. The programme may have started with a few wobbles but the simple, casual, yet highly impactful, ending to Aladdin Sane brought the evening to a rapturous close.