Internationally known troupe makes rock-infused Pittsburgh debut


Benjamin Warbis of Michael Clark Company. Photo by Jake Walters.

Benjamin Warbis of Michael Clark Company. Photo by Jake Walters.

By Steve Sucato

A one-time ballet prodigy, “beautiful boy” and heroin addict, Scottish dancer/choreographer Michael Clark created a Warhol-esque persona for himself in the 1980s. A cultural celebrity and iconoclast, Clark traded a promising mainstream dance career for one influenced by punk, with a desire to shock audiences with sexual content, gender-bending and provocative social messages. Clark’s globe-trotting, London-based troupe, the Michael Clark Company, makes its Pittsburgh debut income, been and gone, on Nov. 1, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Dance Council.

“I think the shock factor is worn off,” says company dancer Benjamin Warbis, by phone from Portland, where the company was performing. “That was 30 years ago, and a lot of people have done it since.”

Over the decades, the 52-year-old Clark’s ballets, like his films with Charles Atlas, have evolved from shocking to awe-inspiring. They now concentrate less on narrative and nudity and more on production value and solid technical dancing. The movement aesthetic blends ballet, Merce Cunningham technique and a smattering of traditional Scottish dance.

While Clark might have mellowed a bit, his drive seems to have remained the same. In 2013, he told a Financial Times reporter, “Extreme is good for me. Fast: slow. Big: small. I’m not really interested in the middle ground.”

Oxana Panchenko and Clair-Thomas of Michael Clark Company. Photo by Jake Walters.

Oxana Panchenko and Clair-Thomas of Michael Clark Company. Photo by Jake Walters.

In the critically acclaimed multimedia production come, been and gone, you get a little of the old Clark, a little of the new, in one sophisticated package. The two-hour program (in which Clark makes a cameo appearance) features three abstract ballets. The first is a revamped version of 1986’s “Swamp,” set to music by Wire and Bruce Gilbert. The second features reinterpretations of earlier choreography set to songs by Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground that Warbis describes as “trippy, exciting and aerobic.” The third, created in 2009, is danced primarily to David Bowie hits.

Warbis is literally the poster boy for the company’s current tour, appearing shirtless, in tight silver pants with a microphone in his mouth. The dancer and model is at once the new face of the company and a reminder of a rebellious young Clark. Of the photo, Warbis says: “You’ll see the costume and the microphone in the work, but not in my mouth.” What audiences will experience, says Warbis, is great visuals, risk-taking choreography and rock ‘n’ roll.

Michael Clark Company performs come, been and gone, 8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 1, Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $19-55. 412-456-6666 or trustarts.org

This article originally appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper October 29, 2014. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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