Aged 17, Clark jumped – jetéd - ship and joined Ballet Rambert, visibly shaking throughout his first solo. Once he could channel his nerves he went freelance, devising work that was big on extremes: sacred and profane, formal and free. Founding his own company meant making work he could perform in as well.
In 1987 he and Bowery took No Fire Escape in Hell to Australia for six weeks. Critics, for the most part, hated it. “I was trying to highlight the sexual nature of dance,” says Clark, whose company last visited Australia in 2010 with another (wildly acclaimed) rock’n’roll triptych, come, been and gone. “I felt that dance had denied its sexuality in order to be taken seriously. I don’t need do it now.
“I’ve always admired artists whose work changes over time, like T.S Eliot or Rembrandt. Or Patti Smith and David Bowie. I met Bowie a few years before he died; the first thing he said to me was, ‘Michael, this rock’n’roll-costume-make-up-dancing thing, it will never catch on’.”
Clark still makes the work on his own body first. Sometimes he forgets to warm up properly and hurts himself (“I get twinges”) but he has no plans to stop anytime soon.
“I’m a non-dancer now; I have the spirit but not the capacity. But I can still do it enough to know how it feels to be inside it, which is what counts. I don’t want to be asking my dancers to do something impossible. I’m never going to be sitting in a chair telling people what to do.”
That’s not rock’n’roll, I say.
“No,” says Clark with a grin. “It really isn’t.”
First published by The Australian