Celebrating a Scots dancer at V&A Dundee

V&A Dundee will open the first major exhibition on Michael Clark, the ground-breaking Scottish dancer and choreographer, on 5 March, curated and organised by Barbican, London.

The exhibition delves into the process of Michael Clark’s collaborations with artists, designers, musicians and performers, giving an extraordinary insight into one of Scotland’s most remarkable creative minds.

Clark is a pioneer, bringing different disciplines together to create his singular vision, considering every detail from costumes and music through to graphic design.

Clark’s collaborators range from Leigh Bowery to The Fall, from Sarah Lucas and Scottish painter Peter Doig to non-professional dancers. His musical influences are diverse, from his hero David Bowie to Patti Smith, T.Rex and composers Erik Satie and Igor Stravinsky, blending punk, ballet and popular culture to create a revolution in dance.

The exhibition is an immersive experience, celebrating Clark’s rebellious energy and innovative performances, exploring the creative energy and excitement of bringing together art, dance, design, fashion and music.

Michael Clark was born in Aberdeen in 1962 and began traditional Scottish dancing at the age of four. In 1975, at the age of 13, he left home to study at the Royal Ballet School in London, before forming his own dance company in 1984 when he was only 22.

Michael Clark in a publicity photograph in 1986

Clark’s choreography changed the landscape of British dance by weaving together subcultures and post-punk energy with the virtuosity and grace of his classical ballet training.

Sophie McKinlay, director of programme at V&A Dundee, said: ‘It is a hugely exciting moment to bring an exhibition about one of Scotland’s most daring and rebellious creative minds home to V&A Dundee.

‘Michael Clark brought together a community of collaborators across art, dance, design, fashion, music and photography to create performances that have forever changed how people look at contemporary dance.

‘Clark is a true radical, a technically brilliant dancer and choreographer as well as a provocative artist whose work has challenged and shocked society’s expectations of gender and sexuality from the 1980s right up to the present day. His work with non-professional dancers, including at Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom, only underlines his total commitment to opening dance up to everyone.’

Florence Ostende, Curator at Barbican, said: ‘I am delighted this exhibition will bring Michael Clark’s visionary creativity back to his home country of Scotland.

‘Clark is fascinating as a pioneer who brought together different disciplines to completely change contemporary dance and the British cultural landscape, from embracing and celebrating queer culture in the 1980s through to redefining gender representation and stereotypes within the heteronormative tradition of ballet history. This exhibition, one of the largest surveys ever dedicated to a living choreographer, presents a comprehensive story of Clark’s career.’

Looking back to his meteoric rise as a young choreographer in the 1980s, Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer presents a comprehensive vision of Clark’s career to date.

Michael Clark in Because We Must (1987)

Reflecting on his influence beyond dance, the exhibition explores his legendary collaborations and influences across the visual arts, music, fashion and film, including Charles Atlas revisiting the acclaimed films Hail the New Puritan (1986) and Because We Must (1989) which featured Leigh Bowery and The Fall, along with work by BodyMap, Duncan Campbell, Peter Doig, Cerith Wyn Evans, Sophie Fiennes, Sarah Lucas, Silke Otto-Knapp, Elizabeth Peyton, Susan Stenger, Stevie Stewart, Wolfgang Tillmans, Trojan and others.

Films, sculptures, paintings, costumes and photographs by his collaborators across visual art, music and fashion are exhibited alongside rare archival material, placing Clark within a wider cultural context.

The exhibition’s large selection of archival film documentation focuses on Clark’s work with filmmakers (Peter Greenaway, Derek Jarman), fashion designers (Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Pringle of Scotland) and musicians (Scritti Politti, Laibach, Bruce Gilbert from Wire).

The archive also displays a selection of interviews with Clark, as well as the documentary The Late Michael Clark (2001) by filmmaker Sophie Fiennes and the BBC recording of Clark’s to a simple, rock ‘n’ roll song (2016) set to the music of Erik Satie, Patti Smith and David Bowie.

Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer runs from 5 March to 4 September 2022. Tickets are on sale now at www.vam.ac.uk/dundee