- Gareth K Vile
- 17 June 2019
Choreographic exploration of the rise of rave and descent of dignity
Gary Clarke Company's Wasteland is the sequel to their examination of the British Miners' Strike during the 1980s, Coal, and shifts focus to the emergence of rave culture in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Seeing a connection between the battering of the mining communities by Thatcher's attack on the unions – the 'enemy within' – and the development of a youth movement that consciously rejected the values of Thatcherism, Clarke presents this evolution through a triptych, with the experiences of 'the last miner' (Alistair Goldsmith) articulated through a mixture of dance, song and brass band melancholy, framing an extended rave sequence that provides a bleak, yet defiant, dynamism.
The message – that the closure of the mines destroyed communities, while raving offered resistance at some personal cost – is put across explicitly: video footage lends the songs and dance context, if not nuance, and the role of the state in suppressing both miner and raver is made obvious. And while the framing device is clumsy and reiterates the sense of doom, the rave sequence manages to capture both the frenzy and desperation of early 1990s dance culture. Cloaked in darkness, the mixture of hope, political radicalism, anger and frustration is pounded out by the five dancers, including 'the boy', Tom Davis Dunn, who responds to his miner father's emotional collapse by connecting to this new underground.
If much of the production relies on familiar and received ideas about northern masculinity, the raving is a revelation, matching the fierce and freaky dancing of the era, and evoking its optimism even as it revels in darkness. Against the popular demonisation of the scene at the time – which is presented through the video footage – it held a conscious hedonism alongside an awareness of its potential for change. Ultimately a failed revolution, rave attempted to articulate resistance to the mechanisation of society through embracing a rigid beat and dancing: like a pale reflection of the 'ghost dancers' who fought colonialism through movement in the late nineteenth century, rave contained an element of optimistic rebellion even as it chased more sensual pleasures.
Clarke's company express this dualism with a mysterious precision, as the passion of the music and the intensity of the dancers combines with the choreography. The defeat of the movement, and its relationship with the miners' defeat, is handled less elegantly: the complexity of the dancing is reduced to running in circles to denote anxiety and a movement vocabulary familiar from early 21st century companies. Yet the ambition and belief in dance as a vehicle for ideas, and that rare, dark ecstasy exposed in the central sequence, does give the company a bold place within the British dance scene.
Reviewed at Tramway, Glasgow. Now touring.