Review: COAL at Dance City

Review: COAL at Dance City

29th April 2016 Off By Gemma Hirst

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.