ContemporaryDanceNorth East & YorkshirePhysical TheatreReview

Wasteland – Northern Stage, Newcastle

Artistic Director: Gary Clarke

Musical Director: Steven Roberts

Reviewer: Jonathan Cash

Gary Clarke is pulling no punches as he goes back to his roots to look at the devastation wrought on mining communities by the pit closures of the nineteen eighties and nineties.  Following on from his earlier piece, ‘Coal’, which portrayed the miners’ strike, Wasteland is a fierce and visceral new dance-drama that also uses film, music and song to contrast the despair and inertia of the ex-miners with the escape of the younger generation into illegal rave culture.

‘The Last Miner’ portrayed by Alistair Goldsmith, shambles on in shabby clothes, clutching a bottle. He drinks and dances, falling and writhing in a long, devastating study of despair and self-loathing. We then see archive film footage of the Yorkshire pits before and after their closure. At the dole office he meets 4 ex-miners, here portrayed by local amateur singers, who sing ‘Gresford’, the miner’s hymn, and ‘Coal Not Dole’, a protest song to the tune of The Red Flag. This is accompanied by a brass band.

Dancers portraying the younger residents, Reece Calver, Robert Anderson, Jake Evans, Elena Thomas Voilquin and Emily Thompson Smith, are seen playing around with shopping trollies and an old armchair, running and fighting sporadically. They are aimless, savage and tribal. 

Calver is the son of the miner. Finding his dad slumped in an armchair, he provokes him until they fight, desperately and brutally, until they reconcile just as fiercely as they fought. Goldsmith stays in the centre of the stage through all that follows, as a constant reminder that whatever the young people are doing, his generation is going nowhere.

We see the younger generation dance, at first all as individuals, in a long section that makes us feel the repetitive nature of rave, nodding to that dance vocabulary whilst using contemporary dance techniques. Gradually they come together as a group, showing how the ravers evolve into a community. As they do this, we start to feel their bliss, in the most joyous part of the piece.

This is short-lived, as the police arrive to break up the rave. The youngsters fight back but ultimately scatter. This leaves Calver alone, in an echo of Goldsmith’s opening solo, to demonstrate the negative side of the rave culture. This brings a closure of sorts when the singers return, accompanied by a reduced brass band and the young people also gather in the room. This was the only false moment of the evening.  

At around 90 minutes without an interval, this is a full-on assault on the senses and the emotions. This show stands on the virtuosity, commitment – and stamina – of this formidable ensemble of dancers. Inspired by Clarke’s hometown of Grimethorpe, it is clearly very personal. But it is universal in its themes and its emotions. This is a powerful, accomplished piece of dance theatre and a timely reminder of the social consequences of political actions. 

Runs until 26 September | Image: Joe Armitage 

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Gripping dance drama

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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