Gemma Hirst

Review: COAL at Dance City

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Whenever I go to see a performance that is based on the history of mining, I am always sceptical of what else you can do to a story that is so poignant with the North East. With performances such as Pitmen Painters and Billy Elliot, I wonder what other stories can be told through a live performance.

Gary Clarke attempts a dance piece – COAL – as a response to his upbringing in the working class mining village of Grimethorpe, South Yorkshire.

It focuses on the lives of the miners and the struggles that they had to go through during the working day.

Clarke highlights the labour intensive work that the miners had to do through several dance sections. It hits home of the risks and pressures that miners had to deal with.

As the set and lighting of the performance is dark and smoky, it feels as if you are really there with the miners enduring the same experience that they are going through.

There is live music being played by the NASUWT Riverside Brass Band which sets the scene and almost feels as if we have been brought back to the 1980’s. I enjoy the music being played and it makes me feel proud to be a North East lass.

A little worried about how the mining industry can be conveyed through dance, the choreographer manages to have a clear voice and narrative to the piece.

Yet at times the story is lost through the politics and often felt like propaganda rather than dance. Especially in the sections where we see Margret Thatcher (Eleanor Perry) perform a solo and the miners group sections, with a backdrop of archived footage from the miners’ strike, the politics of the miners is rammed down my throat.

The dancers wear costumes that are fitting to the history and the characters they are portraying, I feel that the mining history isn’t taken seriously and portrayed through theatrical farce.

As we see Thatcher with over the top hair and bucked teeth, miners sweating and covered in coal and the wives over exaggerating their sorrow, it almost feels like a comedy instead of a serious story portrayed through dance.

COAL has a clear narrative to it and it does tell a story that audiences can relate to; it certainly captures memories of what it was like to live during that time.

Proving that I was right to be sceptical, perhaps dance is the wrong art form to tell a story as powerful as this and we are best to leave it to the dancing miners and working class artists.

COAL is on at Dance City on April 30.

For more information, click here.

2 Responses to Review: COAL at Dance City

  1. Lewis 13th June 2016 at 3:02 pm

    Not only is this review badly constructed/written (it’s hypocritical, confused and all-in-all clumpy ‘journalism’), it does not accurately reflect the performance. I saw both shows at Dance City and to suggest that it feels like comedy is simply wrong. I would highly recommend that you continue your studies and pay particular attention to the definition of farce. This show was not farcical. To suggest that dance is an art form that is not capable of relating powerful stories is naive. You, young lady have a lot to learn.

  2. Gary Clarke 9th June 2016 at 8:59 pm

    Dear Gemma. I never really reply or pay attention to critics comments on my work, but your review certainly needs a response. I firstly need to clear up, as you clearly state in your opening statement that I am from and proud to be a working class artist having grown up and still live in Grimethorpe, which, if you would have done your research, is a very working class mining village, however in your closing statement, you say I should leave the subject matter to working class artists? Forgive me for feeling confused, offended and wonder how any times you actually read your review before publishing, not many, otherwise I am sure you would have seen this vital error in your writing. You also state that you had the politics rammed down your throat…I would like to ask how old you are and what connection you have to the industry!? If any, you will see that what I put infrot of an audience is purely what happened and if the Orgreave Truth and Justice Board saw your comment they would be outraged. I am telling te are out from the miners side, which is why you feel this is properganda. I grew up in the 80’s during the strike and felt the effects then and still now, so yes, my story is one sided. And I’m proud of that. As for the comedy element. You just be one of few people that thought the show was funny. Most people leave feeling sad and ashamed at what has happened to our working classes. I am not quite sure how long you have been reviewing work, or indeed, if you know how to talk about it, but please don’t write in this way and not expect a response. If you would like to discuss this further, I would be more than happy to.