V&A Dundee's celebration of Scotland’s dance trailblazer Michael Clark is a revelation – Brian Ferguson

On a sunny Sunday morning in Dundee, the contrast between the dazzling blue skies above the Tay and the newly created black box room at the city’s V&A museum of design could not be greater.

Pounding rock music blasts out from towering speakers on either side of a video screen showcasing dazzling dance choreography.

The installation left a lasting impression after my third and final visit to the new exhibition celebrating Scotland’s dance trailblazer Michael Clark over its opening weekend – and not just because of its volume.

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The exhibition, Cosmic Dancer, the first V&A Dundee has staged dedicated to a Scottish cultural figure since it opened four years ago, was something of a revelation on several levels.

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Firstly, it is an exhilarating introduction to the remarkable career of Clark, who began Scottish traditional dance classes in Aberdeen when he was just four, left home for a place at the Royal Ballet School in London at the age of 13 and had launched his own company by the time he was 22.

Emerging from the exhibition, which highlighted his work with the indie-rock band The Fall, visual artist and sculptor Sarah Lucas, Turner-winning filmmaker Duncan Campbell and performance artist Leigh Bowery, I wondered how many other Scots who have excelled in the creative industries had done so while embracing so many different art forms.

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I was somewhat surprised to hear that questions had been raised in Dundee about why the city’s design museum was hosting an exhibition about a dancer.

Those questions should be emphatically answered by the breadth and variety of Cosmic Dancer, which features painstakingly designed costumes created for Clark’s shows, four decades worth of striking posters, flyers and programmes, and the giant cheeseburger and baked beans can designed for the set of the live show he created with The Fall.

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VA Dundee opened the first major exhibition or Michael Clark, the groundbreaking Scottish dancer and choreographer, at the weekend. Picture: Michael McGurk

The introductory room, an multi-screen installation by video artist Charles Atlas which explored the early years of Clark, was an engrossing exhibition within the exhibition.

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Equally compelling were the numerous archive of interviews with Clark himself during a career in which he also collaborated with the filmmakers Peter Greenaway and Derek Jarman, and worked with the fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen, although the dancer and choreographer was a notable absentee from the celebrations to unveil the exhibition less than 60 miles from his birthplace.

Some of the footage offered painful reminders that it was significantly harder to be a young, openly gay performer in 1980s Britain, at a time when the UK Government was introducing its controversial Section 28 legislation, than it is today.

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While Cosmic Dancer will undoubtedly prove a huge draw for Clark’s army of fans in Scotland, some of whom have followed his career since his International Festival and Fringe shows in the 1980s, there seems little doubt a whole new audience will be brought to his work.

VA Dundee opened the first major exhibition or Michael Clark, the groundbreaking Scottish dancer and choreographer, this weekend. Picture: Michael McGurk
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This will hopefully lead to Scottish galleries and museums creating further celebrations devoted to some of our most prolific and ground-breaking artists and creatives – Sir Billy Connolly seems an obvious contender – to follow the Clark exhibition and the memorable tributes staged to honour Muriel Spark and Annie Lennox in Edinburgh in recent years.



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