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Ballet gone wrong: Michael Clark’s classical deviations

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posted on 2023-06-09, 14:00 authored by Arabella StangerArabella Stanger
Scottish dancer and choreographer Michael Clark has long been heralded the bad boy of British ballet. From his youthful absconsions from the Royal Ballet’s lower school and eventual jettison of a contract with that company for a career in contemporary dance, to his cross-breeding of ballet, post-punk, and queer clubbing cultures upon British and international establishment dance stages since the 1980s, to the inversions, distortions, and perversions of Cecchetti-inspired vocabularies that sit of the heart of his choreographic oeuvre, the troubled relationships that Clark’s work has forged with institutions of balletic classicism have been consistently mythologized, by his critics and champions alike, as ballet gone wrong. This chapter explores and problematizes that purported ‘wrongness’ in its various guises: its biographical narratives (the legends and rumours that construct Clark’s personal history as a deviant wildness at the heart of his classical practice); its underground sources (the subcultural incursions made by its sonic and scenographic elements); and its choreographic permutations (the skewed classicisms embodied in his dances). In the light of these mythologized sites of wrongness, and with a focus on his excavations of Ballets Russes histories with his Stravinsky Project (2005–2007), I wish to argue two things. First, I suggest that Clark’s deviations from some institutions of contemporary (British) ballet are in fact afforded by what theorist Jasbir Puar has described as “elite cosmopolitan mobilities”, guarantors for cultural agility and risk-taking bound up with whiteness and that in Clark’s case map out from and into the very institutions to which he is positioned in opposition. Correspondingly, I explore the ways in which Clark’s corruption of classical forms and cultures both inherits historic gestures bound to ballet’s mutated life in certain dance modernisms and is co-opted into a contemporary brand narrative that continues to underwrite his staging of balletic dissidence.


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  • Published

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  • Accepted version


Oxford University Press



Book title

The Oxford handbook of contemporary ballet

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  • English Publications

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Peer reviewed?

  • Yes


Jill Nunes Jensen, Kathrina Farrugia-Kriel

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