N&N Festival Diary: Friday, May 9

Ian Collins At 45 Michael Clark has now run his own cutting-edge dance company for the majority of his life - and after five operations on his knees his commitment to his art is complete, not to say extreme.

Ian Collins

At 45 Michael Clark has now run his own cutting-edge dance company for the majority of his life - and after five operations on his knees his commitment to his art is complete, not to say extreme.

At the Norwich Theatre Royal for the next two nights, the Michael Clark Company will be in typically pioneering and punishing form. The Stravinsky Project, focusing on what the director terms the “Holy Trinity” of the composer's landmark scores - The Rite of Spring, Apollo and Les Noces - is the culmination of a 15-year obsession.

To underline the scandalous impact of Stravinsky's music early in the 20th century, the Clark approach is then to add punk standards from his own youth in the 1980s from Iggy Pop and the Sex Pistols. Very shockingly, Barbra Streisand also gets a look in. Oh, and there's nudity too.

“Dance has to be so disciplined,” he says. “I love to explore at that point where it might all fall apart - that tension, and that dramatic contrast, makes for great theatre I think.”

This former enfant terrible and perennial rebel knows all about theatre and all about falling apart, having had acclaimed productions punctuated by unscripted breakdowns and career breaks to deal with heroin addiction.

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The hardship in the Billy Elliott story is soft compared with the life story of Michael Clark - whose north-eastern upbringing was in the wildest wilds near Aberdeen. Happily, he was a child whiz at Highland dancing before a lasting fling with ballet.

With a productive air of recklessness, he had formed his own company by the age of 22 to allow his creativity free rein. The result has been a dramatic (and at times traumatic) spectacle which is savage and beautiful and endlessly innovative.

With the help of Britten Sinfonia and the New London Chamber Choir, the Stravinsky triple bill is about to be performed over two nights for the first time outside London. They will now score dances called O, Mmm… and I Do, all warmly received when first aired at the Barbican.

Michael Clark says: “I was thinking there should be a prize for people who come to see us over both nights. So come along and see what the prize might be…”

t Driving from Southwold to Norwich on a sunny festival afternoon, I find my car diverting all by itself and depositing me at Covehithe. Time for a quick swim (after a slow walk around the crumbling cliff).

Back on track, after a dip into cold fire, I turn on the car radio and hear mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotjin singing The Swimmer, from Elgar's Sea Pictures, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Davis. Timing is everything.

Sea Pictures was commissioned for the 1899 Norfolk and Norwich Festival, with Elgar conducting and Clara Butt singing (while dressed “like a mermaid” apparently).

Most of us know it from Janet Baker's version on the album double bill with the cello concerto played by Jacqueline du Pré.

But the problem is that, although ours is the oldest fixed-site festival in the land, many people nationally have never got to hear about us.

I sense a change this year, however. We have won recommendations in the Guardian, Independent and Daily Telegraph and, best of all, the Times has just given a rave review - and a four star rating - to NoFit State Circus being staged in Earlham Park throughout the festival.

All power to our principal sponsor National Express East Anglia in promoting the fact that train fares between Norwich and London now start at £6.

t On my way home again I like to listen to Radio 3's sublime late-night Late Junction, but this evening that programme of world music will be served live in Norwich in a single concert. The Ku-Da-Mix Orchestra will light up and enliven St Andrew's Hall with a rhythmic mix created by Indian Tabla player Kuljit Bhamra and featuring Armenian duduk, Syrian qanun, Flamenco guitar, Chinese erhu, French horn and Paraguayan harp. PLUS pianist and Mercury Prize nominee Zoe Rahman, one of the brightest young stars of the contemporary jazz seasons.

Most tickets are for standing (and dancing), though there is some unreserved seating. Tickets booked in advance for the under-26s cost just £5. Then the party continues over the road, with more from Ku-Da-Mix musicians at the festival club in Cinema City where the bar stays open until 2am. Entry is free but the door is subject to capacity so best to bag a free “after hours” pass when you book your ticket.

t I know why most double bass players are men, since height helps enormously. As does brute strength - I well remember the challenge as a child of trying to control twanged strings like steel cables. But why are harp players usually female? (No jokes about harpies, please.)

The Royal Academy of Music's Harp Ensemble may enlighten us this lunchtime with a programme of specially-commissioned works at the Assembly House. On the other hand, we might just take gender off the agenda, and bask in the music of angels.

WHAT'S ON TODAY

11am-6.30pm Dries Verhoeven, Chapelfield Plain;

1pm Royal Academy of Music Harp Ensemble, Assembly House;

7.45pm Michael Clark Company, Norwich Theatre Royal;

8pm Global Sunset, St Andrew's Hall;

8pm NoFit State Circus, Earlham Park.

t For a brochure with full listings of all events this year, phone 01603 877750 or visit: www.nnfestival.org.uk To book tickets call 01603 766400.

HOT TICKET

Today's two-for-one hot ticket offer is for some dazzling dance from Michael Clark Company - The Stravinsky Project at the Norwich Theatre Royal over the next two evenings. To bag this bargain call the box office - 01603 766400 - by noon.