Artistic Director & Choreographer: Gary Clarke
Chronicles is billed as a ‘live dance extravaganza’ – an accurate enough description of the proceedings. But it is much more than that, being a social historical slice of the building that is now Lawrence Batley Theatre, conjuring up the many different ways the site has been used. But before we get onto the content, what is also fascinating is the form: Gary Clarke’s dancers appear lit in the windows of the facing wall; Josh Hawkins projects fabulous film footage to enhance the narrative; Otis Jones selects music to accompany this; while Rose Condo reads a powerful poem that gels the four disciplines together: that is, dance, film, music and word.
We set off in 1819 when the building is born and built, apparently ‘redolent, resplendent and grand’, being the largest Methodist Church in the land. Visually we see two huge eyes staring out from the wall in front of us which then give way to religious imagery. The latter includes Christ with a crown of thorns, the Holy Bible and the Christ carrying his own cross. We see the dancers observing religious rites, praying and the vicar gesticulating frantically (as if in a fire and brimstone sermon). And with this come some deep and dynamic choral chords.
The building’s story goes on to include catacombs in the basement and eerie cadavers are brought to life by dancers with death masks. Now the film footage has flashes of skeletal details from x-ray imaging. By 1911 it had become a place of sanctuary for wayward women seeking new lives. But when this flounders the building itself has an identity crisis, no longer a place of worship or shelter, but by 1968 a centre for the arts. And on to 1972 there were all new sights and sounds and Hawkins captures these with footage of wild dancing, comic plays and general tomfoolery.
You may be wondering what Gary Clarke’s dancers were up to throughout these huge shifts in time and style. They in fact match each change with a different dance motif though it is hard, given their place in a scarlet red-lit trio of windows, not to think of ladies of the night. They manage to avoid this by adapting to the action with some brilliantly choreographed moves that perfectly fit this multimedia spectacle.
As for 1975, we hear the Rolling Stones’ ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’ but according to the building’s story ‘my riotous debauchery was a blast / .. but it couldn’t last’. Instead came The Ridings diner which sees one dancer provocatively astride a dinner table set to an obscure Italian ballad. There is some light relief when the site becomes a squash club and for the first time Clarke’s dancers come into the courtyard (very effectively). Two female and two male players thrash it out but artful use is made of slow-mo and frieze to focus on the frenetic action in a more mindful manner. After a minute or two of orgasmic whoops the four sporty types prance off.
We feel a genuine sadness for the following neglect of the space with ‘dreary weeds’ taking over and an overall sense of damp and unclean polluting the previous purity, and simply left to deteriorate. Of course the greatest success story of the piece is the work of Kirklees Theatre Trust who gave the building a new life. So in 1994 the dancers act out cutting the red ribbon at the opening of LBT and we are treated to two pas de deux in ballroom dresses and bow tie and tails. And just as the scene friezes in 2021, there is a general celebration of ‘A Theatre for Tomorrow’ – watch this space!
Clarke’s ensemble really make the best of the available space, though sight lines were not ideal at times; Hawkins’ projections add a real magic and at times nostalgia to the proceedings; Rose Condo’s poetic narrative sparkled with wit and wonder throughout, well-researched but not fact-heavy either; Otis Jones picks some great tracks, perhaps at his best spinning a bit of Arvo Part; and the lighting (James Clare) was almost a character in itself.
Chronicles is a highly original and authentic piece of ‘total theatre’ with the multiplicity of forms been used to enhance our experience of the show rather than simply impress. The coincidence of a theatre coming out of COVID restrictions and rolling out a brand new scheme for LBT leaves us with a real feel-good sensation for the coming season: vive ‘A Theatre for Tomorrow’!
Reviewed on 1st September 2021