COAL is a vastly emotive contemporary dance production by the Gary Clarke Company, which was created three years ago to commemorate the 30-year anniversary of the end of the British Miner’s strike. The nostalgia is heavy throughout the piece as it narrates the women’s effort – both in the home and supporting their men, the physical labour of mining, and the politics of the strike. Many of the audience members can relate their own experiences of the mining industry to the performance so that they see family members or friends on stage, rather than the very impressive dancers, which makes the performance entirely personal to everyone who sees it.

The message of solidarity and hard labouring work runs throughout the production, from the first act where The Miner’s Wife (played by TC Howard) runs hysterically around her home, preparing everything for the day; to the second act which shows the five mining men at work, and as Gary Clarke intended: you see miners working rather than dancers pretending to be miners. The arduous and intensive labour is apparent throughout from the strong and dynamic movements and choreography; to the third and final act which demonstrates the politics of the strike and how everyone comes together in times of adversity. The whole production is an uplifting tribute to the working class and those who suffered and gave their lives fighting this battle. Although Clarke claims that the production is not political, when Thatcher enters and the audience collectively starts to hiss, you know that is not the case. Not only does this performance unite everyone on stage and exemplify the unity amongst the working class families, it shows the mutual support of the audience too.

The Miners (Above – Photo credit: Joe Armitage) and the Kent Community Pit Women in COAL – Photo credit: Tim Stubbings

Along with the stunning artistic direction and choreography from Clarke, Charles Webber’s lighting design and musical director Steven Roberts’ additions are what brings this production to life. The lights completely compliment Clarke’s direction so that the shadows of the miners are projected around the auditorium to create an effect which is both breathtaking and emotional. It is never too much and never detracts from the movement, it only seeks to enhance. Roberts’ collection of music and soundscapes are remarkable and diverse, from light and stirring tributes to mining songs and the dramatic and powerful Beethoven’s Symphony Number 5 to demonstrate danger and poignancy. The inclusion of live music from Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band only emphasises the message of solidarity further and evokes the sounds of mining communities.

Not only does this production share an important story with its audience, it also invites them to be a part of it. Clarke has invited women who have a personal connection to mining communities to perform in the production; and the whole concept works incredibly well. Amongst the professional dancers and beautifully choreographed movement, you have four women who act as the glue to the performance, they may never have performed before, but they have a connection to the piece and act as a relatable message to the audience – that this historical event affects everyone in one way or another.

COAL is a very affecting piece of contemporary dance, which combines many mediums of art to create something which commemorates the working class and mining industry. Clarke’s creation will continue the legacy of coal mining so that it is remembered and celebrated for years to come. I urge you to go and see COAL as it continues its UK Tour.


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