SAM Michael Clark left his home in Aberdeen in 1975 at the age of 13. His destination was the Royal Ballet School in London, the city that he made home and where he subsequently formed his own dance company at the age of 22.

Now the V&A Dundee has brought him close to home, as the location for the exhibition Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer, in residence from March 5 to September 4.

Those who are already familiar with Clark’s work will understand why it sits so well in the context of Scotland’s design museum. His impact on the world of dance since the 1980s is unparalleled, not only for the choreography, which had all the precision of ballet training with a decidedly post-punk attitude, but for his close collaboration with artists, designers, costumiers, and musicians. He took that to a different level.

HeraldScotland:

The exhibition brings all of these together. Curated and organised by the Barbican in London it had to close after just one month due to Covid restrictions, so the team who brought it together from archives and newly commissioned pieces is more than pleased that it will have a full run at Scotland’s design museum.

Florence Ostende, Curator of Cosmic Dancer also believes that: “The V&A in Dundee is the perfect location, even down to the architecture. The building has the idea of movement and motion, so it’s a perfect home.”

That idea of conveying movement throughout the exhibition was vital adds Ostende.

“When you work on a dancer or choreographer the materiality of what should be on display is challenging. It’s different from a painter or a sculptor – how will be visitors experience the strength of his work over several decades? How can we make it immersive? Not to replicate a theatre but to understand how he has been incorporated every element into his work.”

HeraldScotland:

Ostende adds that working with the V&A in Dundee led to the decision to make part of the exhibition free in the foyer. “It was a generous proposal from the team there and it goes further to it being accessible to everyone.”

Perhaps the most accessible part of Clark’s work to the uninitiated is the music. He was one of the few artists that was given permission by David Bowie to use his music. Bowie also attended performances in New York.

The I Am Curious Orange was a collaboration with post-punk pioneers The Fall and he also collaborated with Scritti Politti. However, classical composers such as Stravinsky and Satie were also a part of his work.

HeraldScotland:

“His relationship to pop culture and music is particularly relatable,” says Ostende.

“Much of the understanding of his work has been rooted in the 1980s club scene, so when we opened initially, we wondered if that would be our audience. Of course we had that, but the amount of young people who came to see it – that was beyond our expectations. “

The exhibition has films, sculptures, paintings, costumes and photographs from his collaborators, alongside rare archival material, placing Clark within a wider cultural context.

HeraldScotland:

Also his groundbeaking work with filmmakers such as Peter Greenaway and Derek Jarman), fashion designers  including Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Gucci and Pringle of Scotland.

Kate Coyne is Associate Director of the Michael Clark Company and was a dancer there for more than 15 years, first auditioning at 17 but deciding to work with other companies before finally finding herself back there.

“I was about 29 when I joined – at 17 I would have been too young for the work Michael was doing. I needed experience – in dance and life.”

HeraldScotland:

Coyne and Ostende have been working closely together on the exhibition together with three researchers, not a huge team for the scale of the exhibition.

Maybe more than anyone else Coyne is qualified to talk about the uncompromising costumes that Clark has commissioned throughout the years.

“They are certainly challenging for the dancers,” she laughs. “He likes to see how someone will rise to the challenge. There are certain looks like the David Bowie jackets for come, been and gone that were very restrictive but I think they informed the movement and they did look really sharp.”

The coming together of dance company and gallery was key to making this as representative to Michael Clark’s breadth of work, she believes.

HeraldScotland:

“I think that Florence being an art curator has worked so will,” she says. “She could really individualise each of the artists but also tie them to Michael in the most incredible way.”

And Michael himself? It seems that he was involved in initial conceptual phase but then stepped back and allowed the team to get on with it.

“Of course Michael is the key part of it but he was keen not to put his stamp on what it should be.”

Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer runs from Saturday, March 5, to Sunday, September 4 2022. The museum is open six days a week from Wednesday to Monday. Tickets for the show are on sale now at www.vam.ac.uk/dundee