Gary Clarke knows of what he speaks. He grew up in the South Yorkshire community of Grimethorpe, as it felt the devastating impact of the death of the coal-mining industry, following the year-long 1984-5 miners' strike; and his direct experience of the rave scene, he says, made him the artist and choreographer he is today.
Wasteland skilfully brings together six dancers, two brass players, a group of community singers, video projections and contemporaneous newsreels, with a loud pounding acid house score by Jimmy Cauty of The KLF to tell the story of The Last Miner (Alistair Goldsmith) and his son (Reece Calver).
The Last Miner is a human wreck. Deprived of his life’s work and the human dignity it afforded him, he enters his sparsely furnished living room clutching a bottle, and does a stumbling drunken dance full of anguish and despair, while on a screen upstage an 80s newsreel recaps the collapse of the miners strike.
Alistair Goldsmith’s performance is truly remarkable. There is nothing casual in his carefully choreographed drunken dance; and as an actor he movingly conveys the overwhelming hopeless of his character, even when he’s just sitting slumped in front of the TV.
The son’s generation finds a way out of nothingness by abandoning themselves to the rave scene; and a perhaps overlong rave sequence forms the centrepiece of Wasteland.
The dancers of the Gary Clarke Company are superb. There is energy, defiance and not a little menace in their choreographed rave dancing, arms punching the air, feet stomping, torsos jerking rhythmically, their split-second coordination conveying the sense of togetherness central to the rave movement.
It’s as if they’re possessed by a collective trance, aided by popping acid and a variety of other drugs.
The stage is dark, at intervals covered in smoke, Charles Webber’s lighting creating grids of light and shade on the floor, the mind-emptying score thumping relentlessly. Short of joining in the actual dancing, you don’t get much more immersive than this.
For all its momentary euphoria, the rave scene cut a swathe through an entire generation; and Wasteland is dedicated to all those youths, the ones who didn’t survive it and those who are still with us.
Ultimately, Wasteland is hymn to the power and resilience of community; and if not structurally perfect, it is an ambitious, carefully crafted, visceral dance-theatre treatment of a crucial time in the history of modern Britain, that more than justifies its belief in dance as a vehicle for ideas and social commentary.
Age Guidance: 14+
|What||Gary Clarke Company, Wasteland review|
|Where||The Place, 17 Duke's Road, London, WC1H 9PY | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Euston (underground)|
02 Oct 19 – 10 Oct 19, 19:30 No performance 6/7 Oct Dur.: 85 mins no interval
|Price||£20 (concessions £13)|
|Website||Click here to book|