To the Barbican for our annual works outing to see the Michael Clark Company‘s latest offering. True, I am not a great connoisseur of modern dance, but I still have an instinctive feeling that Clark is a great choreographer (instinct, and Mrs S to apprise me). Woody Allen once wrote a savage spoof of avant garde ballet, attributing the most pretentious and ridiculous sentiments to these gyrations and curvets, but I sense nothing of that coming from Clark’s work, which seems all at once to fold the narrative into the symbolic, while wryly skipping around both with sheer kinetics. It helps, of course, that his troupe dances to the Velvet Underground.
Anyway, there we were, looking frumpy – with the exception of Mrs S and the ever-dapper nephew – in among the slap-headed and pig-tailed balletomanes, when during the first interval a young woman came up and introduced herself as being in the press department at the British Library. “We’ve just acquired JG Ballard’s archive,” she said, “as you probably know, and I thought I’d come and say hello given that some of your letters to him are in it.”
Well, I’m sure you know what Mr Nasty said to that: “Oh, really, I want them back.” Jason Shulman, who was with us, pointed out that I didn’t physically own the letters any more – only the rights to their reproduction – but I still felt uneasy and appropriated. A discussion on the merits of biography followed. Certainly, the biographers of the living are the worst: like anticipatory ghouls waiting for the car crash to happen, but there’s also an argument to be made against literary biography in general. After all, while the lives of individuals who have linked the collective to the individual experience (politicians, soldiers, campaigners etc) offer a prima facie case for the understanding of social and political change, it’s difficult to think of writers – who, for the most part sit typing – as of having the same torque. Not that I don’t read literary biography myself – I do, although guiltily, because for another writer it’s simply a species of pornography: watching someone else beating the creative meat.
Which brings us back to Michael Clark, who came on and did a brief solo jig, and then a curtain call dressed in a banana suit out of Leigh Bowery by … well, a banana.