A sinewy dancer dressed in black floats from the heavens. His eyes are closed, his limbs alert and his face glows with euphoria. There's an audible catch in the audience's collective breath as the dancer - Harry Alexander - unfolds himself limb-by-limb into a pool of bright light that spills across the floor. 'You're in the presence of Michael Clark', his movements seem to say. 'Get ready'.
But the highly-charged absurdist aesthetic that we've come to expect from Britain's enfant terrible of dance - the kind that goads and probes its squirming audience - never quite eventuates. The climax never comes. And this is disappointing because otherwise, Clark's New Work 2012 is a highly watchable piece of dance that unifies his technical ballet training and experimental nature while satiating the audience's expectation for a multi-sensory performance. But shock-factor? Zero.
The first half mimics the motions of a ballet class, minus the barre and satin shoes. Eschewing pointed toes for flexed feet, Clark's group of eight dancers perform sequences of highly calibrated, technically-flawless choreography to the blissed-out soundscape of Scritti Politti. It's easy to speculate that these subdued steps are a reflection of Clark's own memories of dance class; first as a student at the Royal Ballet School and, years later, as a recovering drug-addict seeking the solace and uniformity of a familiar place. It's a satisfying start - if not a little slow - and an interesting change of pace for Clark, who usually favours provocative over peaceful.
That all comes to a screeching halt in part two. Gone are the dancers' sexless black tunics, replaced by skin-tight metallic orange unitards that showcase rippling abs. An image of bodybuilders springs to mind. The stage is stripped back and the lighting - ingeniously designed by Charles Atlas - evokes a grungy Studio 54 vibe.
The opening number - Pulp's "Feeling Called Love" - should have been enough to rouse the audience to their feet but Clark's choreography, while racy and raucous, never quite hits the high notes. The interactions between dancers feels forced and pas de deux partners poorly matched. The dancers as a whole are impressive - Harry Alexander being the stand-out - but it would be good to see more control and precision in the dancers' movements, particularly their elevations.
The highlight comes in the form of Darren Spooner, the middle-aged zombie shaman alter-ego of Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker. As the frontman of electronic group Relaxed Muscle, he roams the stage with reckless abandon while the dancers gyrate on stools behind him. While Crocker's energy is contagious, a little connection between him and the dancers wouldn't go amiss. It's hard to shake the feeling that you're witnessing the final hours of an all-night rave and these are the people hanging onto the party for dear life.
Clark's ability to create gripping, original works hasn't diminished over time - New Works 2012 is, despite its flaws, an incredibly entertaining show - but his deliciously awkward, shift-in-your-seat-uncomfortable aesthetic that earned him his celebrity cred seems to have taken a backseat this time around.