Gary Clarke’s previous work, Coal, was one of the most memorable pieces of dance of last year, a surprising, visceral, utterly original evocation of Yorkshire’s mining community and the devastation wrought on it by Margaret Thatcher’s dismantling of the national industry in the 1980s. Wasteland is the Yorkshire choreographer’s follow-up – he charts how, as a generation of unemployed miners sank to their knees, the generation below them, the young robbed of their future, combined their directionless energy and a blighted landscape of derelict warehouses to create rave culture.
Alistair Goldsmith’s last miner is a poignant ever-present figure on stage; he arrives with a zombie-like shuffle, careens around the stage in a skilfully executed piece of drunken dancing, accompanies the four Pit Men Singers who appear on stage with brass band accompaniment, then sags into a battered armchair centre-stage, staring vacantly at a television set.
Reece Calver as his son pings off the walls with frustration and picks a lengthy, heart-wrenching physical fight with his father, before tuning into a pirate radio station and losing himself in the undulating joys of the KLF.
Video footage of motorway driving sets the scene for the warehouse party to come – ravers would travel great distances to get to these parties, and Clarke evokes this rave with the genuine affection of one who was part of the scene. Amid the swirls of dry ice and strobe lights, his dancers, dressed in beanie hats, anoraks and sweatpants, start slowly, a couple repeating a piston-like mechanical movement that recalls pit machinery.
Then all five are drawn into an exhilarating endurance test of a dance routine. Clarke captures the almost religious euphoria that results from moving to a hypnotically repetitive beat, and the joyous sense of community when all the dancers move together as one. “Tune!” roars one after a particularly impressively sustained burst of dancing, to the amusement of the audience – white gloves and maracas even make an appearance. It feels important, somehow, that this moment in dance history is recorded so faithfully and with such love.
The problem is that, narrative-wise, there isn’t really anywhere to go from here. The police wade in, there are protests at the 1994 Criminal Justice Act, and the point is made that arresting and charging people for dancing, thereby turning ordinary people into criminals, was a way to keep demonising the same community. But the inventiveness of Coal isn’t quite present here and it all feels a bit by-numbers. Clarke doesn’t pull any punches with his ending, though – once again, a community is left defiant but defeated.