by Gary Clarke
The Gary Clark Company performed COAL, an outstanding and powerfully executed performance on Wednesday 1st March 2017, ending with a standing ovation. Clarke successfully created within the MDI LEAP Dance festival in association with the Unity Theatre Liverpool, an atmospheric piece capturing a time in British history; the mining industry. The industrial performance located in an industrial space, ‘Make’ allowed for a deep connection from all, really helping to empower the performance and show a frightening parallel to the events that occurred in the 1980’s.
COAL, a deeply personal time for Clarke and so many others allowed for the working class mining villager’s to be heard. This touching performance incorporated a variety of emotions, moving the audience from laugh out loud moments to devastation and loss. The piece continued to push physical and emotional boundaries, sharing and moving through the life of the communities and the people of the working class. COAL really expressed the idea of community and it being at the heart of the mining industry. What it meant to be stuck in the life of mining, being confined and captured within this time. An elegant touch of community as Clarke involved women from local mining villages from around the UK. Thus helping to further this theme of truthfulness and realism, an added feature that not only allowed for a community feel but gave the performance a deeper connection that achieved authenticity and strength. Clarke further engaged with local brass bands to play live music within the performance, giving the audience a singular and individual presentation of the work.
The sound creation throughout the performance, from both live and recorded established a breath-taking environment, beautifully executed in relation to both theme and movement material created. The accompaniment allowed for a development in our overall sensory attachment to the performance, the sounds would alternate from live to recorded and spoken word. A deep connection being shown between the miners and the lift, travelling down into the bottomless cavernous and abysmal location. The sound, continuous and deep allowing for a nervous emotion to run through the body, worried and anxious for what may happen next. This matching the low movement and the progression of lacking visibility, as a foggy smoke filled the entirety of the space.
The movement created not only showed a refreshing take on a new stylistic style, but without being obvious allowed for a profound connection with the theme and the physical strains that occurred when mining. This was visible within the piece, displaying sweat and a continuous amount of power exploding throughout the performance. An immense amount of connection between dancers allowed for an impressive and tasteful exploration of movement, showing an intense and outstanding use of weight, balance and stability. Very much highlighting the brutality and realistic movement carried out in the mines. The dancers’ scrambled, scooped, raised and fell through the space, giving a truthfully inspirational and well-rehearsed performance. The movement worked well alongside the lighting and sound allowing for a greater structure to be created. The orange/yellowing light gave a pressured and heavy approach to the movement, using this spot of light to enhance the tight and small spaces, cramming the dancers into a segment of space. The movement highlighted mining jobs as the dancers worked closely together but never clashing. An impressive technique that explored this mining environment.
Simplistic but significant symbolism became apparent throughout the performance, allowing for interpretation and creativity of happenings that occurred within the mines. A black balloon effortlessly appeared as a miner began to blow allowing it to expand and finally pop. Beautifully highlighting the dark effects and lack of oxygen in which the miner had experienced. This automatically gave a certain bleak and desolate feel to the atmosphere created.
A high pitch and ear piercing bell would ring to announce a change in job role in the mine, this gave the audience a sense of time and anxiousness as the workers continued with their tasks viciously and inhumanely. The smooth transitions in movement, lighting and sound swept the audience into a continuous flow, allowing us to truly experience and become fully involved within the piece. The dancers would shout and command, helping to show a natural and realistic approach to life in the mines, maintaining a staggering stamina and consistent amount of power and role interpretation.
COAL incorporated a variety of roles from Margaret Thatcher to miners and pit girls, touching on all lives within the mining community. This allowed for a political approach, however it did not engulf the performance but added to the already existing negativity and dark realities of the time. The stories told within the performance by the pit girls were pulled from true stories that were given within interviews. This again adding to the realism of the production and the real situations that occurred during that time. The pit girls added laughter, and a more upbeat environment giving a contrast in emotions, this helped to create a lighter atmosphere but still allowed for the darkness to remain at hand. COAL really portrayed the lives of many, giving a fantastic and incomparable performance showing the struggle and sense of community formed.
We thank Gary Clarke and all involved for sharing this truly extraordinary performance, it provoked thought, emotion and connections within the mining community and furthermore, what the people must have gone through at this time. An exceptionally inspirational performance in which has touched so many people’s lives, we look forward to further works by Gary Clarke and hope to see new works created in the future.
Critique and Blog Editor:
Megan Rainford BA