Ballet about British miners strike

This December 2015 video from Britain is called Gary Clarke Company: COAL, Short Trailer.

By Susan Darlington in Britain:

Wednesday 21st September 2016

Choreographer GARY CLARKE tells Susan Darlington how in-depth research into the experiences of the pit village communities inspired COAL, his dance piece on the 1984-85 miners’ strike

GROWING up in Grimethorpe, south Yorkshire, choreographer Gary Clarke witnessed at first hand the impact of the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

“I saw how families were torn apart by hunger and despair, battling to remain true to their principles as the government and the law continued to beat them,” he says.

“There wasn’t a family in that community unaffected by the strike and even today you can feel that sense of loss, not just of an industry but of a way of life.”

The strike wasn’t just an industrial dispute, he stresses. “It was a fight for survival which affected every family and left scars which even today, more than 30 years later, are only just beginning to heal.”

Clarke managed to escape from Grimethorpe’s high unemployment through dance — he’s been dubbed “Billy Elliot” in some quarters — and, in doing so, chose to ignore the consequences of the strike.

It wasn’t until he’d started to mature through the development of his work that he began to look back on the past and really understand what his village went through in 1984 and how it had shaped the future for generations of people.

“I was shocked, sickened — and educated — by what I discovered and was compelled to try and explore those feelings and show this through the medium of contemporary dance and movement.”

Initially, he produced a small-scale version of COAL in 2009 and then two years ago, with the 30th anniversary of the strike approaching, deemed it the right time to expand on that original piece and create a dance work which looked at the mining industry, its work and domestic lives and its disputes.

The show isn’t the first time Clarke has drawn on personal experiences as a source for his work but for COAL he knew that he needed to thoroughly research the subject “and that added a whole new level of detail and depth to the show you see now.”

He interviewed Anne Scargill and Betty Cook, founders of Women Against Pit Closures, and spent time with Chris Skidmore of the National Union of Mineworkers, Bruce Wilson, author of Yorkshire’s Flying Pickets, Barnsley historian and author Brian Elliott and Paul Winter of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign.

Their input was “absolutely central,” he says. “I got completely caught up in the story of a community fighting to survive. It is the authentic voices of women like Anne Scargill and Betty Cook who bring the latter stages of COAL to life.”

It’s in these sections of the production that one of the dancers, TC Howard, delivers a monologue that brings to life the real voices of the region’s women.

“At every performance people laugh and cry at what they are hearing,” Clarke says.

A voice is also given to Margaret Thatcher but, rather than drawing on archive footage like most other shows, the former prime minister is brought to life by Spitting Image star Steve Nallon.

“The version of Thatcher we present is sharply satirical, not in any way an attempt to present the real woman,” Clarke explains.

Eleanor Perry, who plays Thatcher, gives one of the show’s most outstanding, exciting and terrifying performances and we needed a vocal to match that.

“The combination of her movement and Steve’s evocation of Thatcher’s speeches is brilliant and scary and Eleanor is always disappointed if she doesn’t get the audience booing.”

As the show developed and Thatcher became a major character in the narrative, Clarke says that the characterisation went beyond the purely personal and acquired a political message.

“But I hope it’s one with a universal message too.

“Conveying what it was like to be part of the strike also gives a vivid idea of what it’s like to be part of any group of people who take on a repressive regime, who challenge brutal authority and fight for their rights.”

That sense of community spirit provides the production’s emotional heart and it’s at its artistic core, with a cast of local women and a live brass band working alongside the cast of seven professional dancers at each venue the show tours.

COAL would not exist without that community involvement, Clarke is at pains to point out.“I always wanted to create a major piece of community theatre and with the band and my pit women on stage I think we’ve done just that.

“The live brass creates a totally authentic and moving musical accompaniment and the involvement of the women works in exactly the same way.”

Whether by coincidence or design these are two sections of the mining community that survived or derived a positive outcome from the strike — the colliery brass bands, as memorably depicted in the 1996 film Brassed Off, and the women who were given “a voice they had perhaps never used before but which they have never lost.”

The other legacy that remains pertinent is that, as Clarke says, “in a world where workers’ rights are being constantly eroded in the name of progress and ‘economy,’ it’s always important to be reminded that there was a time when people were prepared to stand together and fight for what they believed in.”

COAL runs at at the Tramway in Glasgow from September 30-October 1, then tours until December 8, details:

BULLYING RAMPANT FOR BOYS IN BALLET “The kids taunting you should only be so lucky to have a passion equal to yours … you will always have something stronger than they do: the courage to do something different.” [HuffPost]

6 thoughts on “Ballet about British miners strike

  1. Pingback: British miners’ strike, 1985 Dutch solidarity music | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Friday 30th December 2016

    posted by Conrad Landin in Britain

    Thatcher secretly met leaders of blackleg UDM 3 times in years after ’84-85 strike

    MARGARET THATCHER personally met the leaders of the scab Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM) at least three times in the years following the miners’ strike.

    Classified Downing Street files, which are released by the National Archives today, expose the extent to which the Thatcher government actively assisted the UDM, formed when strikebreaking Nottinghamshire miners broke away from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in 1985.

    Analysis of the files by the Morning Star shows that Thatcher had secret tete-a-tetes with UDM general secretary Roy Lynk in 1986, 1988 and 1989.

    The union is already known to have advised ministers on weakening the collective power of miners in the early 1990s, when it was taking part in a bid to buy up privatised pits.

    But the newly released files suggest Thatcher took a personal interest in repaying the scab union for its members’ refusal to take part in the NUM’s 1984-85 strike, a courageous stand against Thatcher’s plans to dismantle Britain’s coal industry and break the union’s power.

    A briefing prepared for Thatcher ahead of the 1988 meeting says she should stress to Mr Lynk that British Coal (formerly the National Coal Board) had “leant over backwards” to continue coal production at closure-threatened pits “with a UDM majority.”

    Another document is annotated in Thatcher’s handwriting: “We have to keep the UDM satisfied. We (and the country) owe a lot to their members.”

    NUM general secretary Chris Kitchen told the Star: “These documents confirm what we already knew.

    “The UDM was set up by the Tory government to try to weaken the NUM, and it supported the Tory government all the way through.

    “We’ve always known it was a Tory trade union, and that’s why they weren’t in the TUC.”

    The meetings were not publicised by either side at the time.

    “Roy Lynk has asked that, if possible, the meeting tomorrow should be kept secret, because, I think, in terms of their recruitment and retaining of members the UDM do not wish to be seen as being close to either the government or the employer,” then energy secretary Peter Walker wrote ahead of the first soiree.

    Another memo was given a “strictly limited circulation to named individuals only.”

    The files, which were closed in 1990, the year Thatcher left office, also show that members of the Cabinet clashed over coal policy.

    Mr Walker raised concerns when Cecil Parkinson, who had taken over as energy secretary, announced the government would “press ahead” with privatisation in his speech at the 1988 Conservative conference.

    And John Major, who was chancellor at the time, objected to Mr Parkinson’s offer of a wage rise to UDM members outside agreed public-sector pay parameters.

    The UDM could not be reached for comment.


  3. Pingback: British striking miners, still no justice | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: Women of the British miners’ strike, new play | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  5. Pingback: French ballet dancers against Macron’s austerity | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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