South Yorkshire dancer’s love letter to pit communities

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Choreographer Gary Clarke’s new dance piece Coal is a love letter to the South Yorkshire mining community.

Gary, from Grimethorpe, said: “There was something about my history and heritage. I was astounded at how much the coal-mining industry and working class of Britain was embedded in me.

“I wanted to pay tribute to that and create a piece of work which was a part of that legacy.

“What happened in the 1980s with the closure of the coal mines changed the fabric of our society.”

Gary saw the effect in his village, which suffered, like so many others.

“The piece is a mark of respect and tribute. Everything has changed. I wanted this to come into contemporary dance, which hasn’t been done before.”

For Gary, it was most important that miners could understand the piece and feel it related to their lives.

Last year a preview of the show at Cast in Doncaster was performed to theatre professionals and people from local mining communities.

Gary was thrilled by their enthusiastic response

“Seeing the miners say I’d done them proud and giving it a standing ovation was fantastic. It’s for them.

“To get that from people who’d experienced that first hand was brilliant. That made me take it further.”

He added: “I don’t see it as a dance show. It’s a piece of education and commenting on real life.

“People are still affected by fighting the battles. It feels like it’s very much about the here and now today. That is an important message.”

However, Gary doesn’t want the 1984-5 miners’ strike to hang too heavily on the piece.

It looks at a day in the life of the coal miner and the close bonds formed by men working in dangerous conditions, as well as the effects on their families and community.

Real people from the pit communities where the show is touring appear in the piece.

They include members of Women Against Pit Closures.

When the show is seen in Barnsley and Doncaster, members of the Carlton Main Frickley Band will also perform.

Gary said he “can’t wait” for the show at Barnsley Civic. “It’s going to be really special for me to be going back to my home town.”

Gary did live in London for a time but came back to Grimethorpe to live with his family. He said: “They see me as a kind of example of someone who got out of the village and did good at something.

“The whole village feels like that and it’s why this work is super important to me. Those are my people and I want to celebrate them.”

Coal by Gary Clarke Company is at Barnsley Civic on Friday February 19 and Saturday 20 but the Friday night show has already sold out. It is at Cast in Doncaster on March 5.