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