New dance piece by acclaimed Yorkshire-based choreographer Gary Clarke shines light on the miners’ strike

Choreographer Gary Clarke's new work Wasteland comes to Barnsley next month.
Choreographer Gary Clarke's new work Wasteland comes to Barnsley next month.
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South Yorkshire choreographer Gary Clarke has created a new dance show that forms the second part of his love letter to his pit village home.

Wasteland, which premiered in Doncaster earlier this week and is now on a national tour, is the follow-up to Coal, the hit show that he wrote to mark the 25th anniversary of the miners’ strike. Clarke grew up and still lives in Grimethorpe, a village that was at the centre of the bitter year-long dispute.

The action in Wasteland moves on ten years to look at the aftermath of pit closures, including rave culture and the Government’s clampdown with the introduction of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

Like much of Clarke’s work, it reflects parts of his own life and he found he had to take a break from creating the show after trying out an initial version to an invited audience at Cast in Doncaster last year. “It’s hard when you’re dealing with autobiographical work. I had to go into the studio and start again. The creative process takes time. I’m constantly trying to reshuffle and reshape. I never get to the point where I go, ‘this is it’.”

Clarke describes the show as “looking at the death of industrial Britain and the rise of UK rave culture. They are completely parallel to one another.

“Britain became this wasteland with these abandoned workplaces. At that time the sound of rave had come over from America.

“That connected with what was happening socially and there was a sub-culture brewing. There was a whole generation of teenagers and young people without prospects of work or future. Illegal rave culture gave these young people a way of trying to rebuild that community and togetherness, done through music and dance.”

Abandoned industrial workplaces became ideal venues for raves. The Tories, alarmed by these mass gatherings and their accompanying drug culture, clamped down on gatherings of more than a hundred to listen to music with repetitive beats.

Young people fought back against the criminalisation of their lifestyles. “The whole show acts as a vehicle for entertainment,” says Clarke. “People should be entertained and educated about the history of this country. With Coal it was great for young people. They could learn about an industry that is no longer around. You bring them to the theatre to see it and they’re asking questions and engaging in a different way.”

Clarke grew up during the 1984-5 strike and, although he was too young to take part in rave culture, watched his older brother go off to raves. Meanwhile, the older generation back home whose livelihoods had been taken away often turned to drink to cope with how their lives had been ripped apart, something that Wasteland also shows. “What I’m trying to get is two generations, coal miners and children, and how each coped.” Explaining how he became a dancer, Clarke says: “Dance was a coping mechanism, it wasn’t a luxury.”

Wasteland, The Civic Barnsley, June 6-8; Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, November 12 & 13. wastelandtour.co.uk