Strike up the band…Gary’s back!
A FEATURED role in a Brad Pitt movie, a string of one-off choreographic commissions and even a Menage a Trois…no wonder Gary Clarke decided at the end of 2012 that he needed to take some time out!
The film was World War Z, Mr Pitt’s action blockbuster, which saw Gary devoting several months to being a blood-crazed zombie.
Menage a Trois, of course, was the delightful triple bill featuring three of Gary’s most popular works, the raunchy, vibrant, outspoken and frequently hilarious Cameo Cookie, the highly acclaimed rib tickling, finger clicking 2 Men & a Michael and the riotous and raunchy Horsemeat.
But after finishing the year at Liverpool’s Homotopia Festival – where Horsemeat was partnered with two astonishing and beautiful new pieces, A Beautiful Hell and Bitter Suite – Gary recognised that he was on course for a complete burnout.
And at that point he returned to his family home in Grimethorpe just outside Barnsley in South Yorkshire and made the choice that 2013 would be a year of reflection and development.
“I’ll be honest, 2012 left me feeling creatively drained just because of the amount of large scale commissions I was doing on top of everything else,” he admits.
“I felt I needed some rest, time to recharge so in the past 12 months that’s exactly what I’ve been focusing on.
“One of my problems is that I can never say no – even though I say to my producer that I want time off, if an offer of work comes in I just do it.”
Now, though, it’s 2014 and Gary is refreshed and ready to get back to work again.
“I feel like I have had some well earned and deserved time out,” he says.
“Now I am ready to step back up, get back on track and come back with a bang!”
One of the works he will come back with is a new, expanded and radically re-worked version of his early hit Coal, the piece inspired by the Dearne Valley coal fields of Gary’s youth – and the 1980s strike that laid waste to an industry and way of life.
“I’m bringing Coal back on a really big scale,” he explains, sounding genuinely excited at the prospect of revisiting a piece that has played such a big part in his life.
“I don’t think I capitalised on the idea the first time around and didn’t fully understand the potential it had but now I feel the work can be revisited in a much more fulfilled way,” he admits.
“I want it to be seen and feel like it needs to be seen because I have so much more to say now.
“It may be called Coal and it may be inspired by the world I knew as a child but really it’s got a much wider message.
“It’s about people having their livelihoods taken away, which is happening more and more and is more relevant now than it ever has been.”
The one major thing that has happened since the piece was first performed is the death of Margaret Thatcher, the woman Gary still talks about with the passion and contempt of a man who can see no positives in her political legacy – and don’t expect him to attempt to find good in Thatcher simply because she died.
“Thatcher’s death brings all the things back to the fore again,” he says, quite simply.
“This isn’t a piece about Thatcher but she’s still in there and there’s still a lot more I can do with this.”
What that will mean is a major expansion of the piece, with the original recorded music – Coal only began to develop when Gary came across a Brass Band record in a second hand shop – replaced by a live band in every venue.
He will also be completely restaging the work, using his growing experience as a choreographer to enhance an already strong piece of dance.
“It will be choreographically richer,” he says. “I understand choreography better now than I ever have done and I feel I can investigate the themes more, do more research and get much more into it than I did before because I have a greater understanding of structure.
“It will be bigger and better – a bigger cast and working with that live band too.
“And I’m also wanting to do work with community groups, local women who will recreate the picket lines of the strike on stage.”
In other words, this isn’t just a case of revisiting a piece but actually taking the original and developing it into something significantly bigger and more challenging – which is why Gary admits it won’t be ready for a premiere until early 2015.
“I don’t want to go down the nostalgia route so much,” he says. “It will be a good opportunity for me to investigate what I am about as a choreographer.”
Part of the process of developing a deeper understanding of his own work has been made possible by some much-needed Arts Council funding.
“That has allowed me to have time in the studio with dancers but with no actual outcome,” Gary says.
“That’s such a great feeling, doing valuable work but without the pressure of having to produce an end product, just using the time to understand what you’re trying to achieve.
“And for the first time too I’ve been working with a dramaturg, Lou Cope, which has been really good for me.
“Being a choreographer is a lonely job and the minute you become a choreographer your relationship with other people changes.
“What I have found lovely about working with a dramaturg is that they become your artistic confidante, they understand you and your work and help you to find answers.
“Lou has been amazing, she’s a wonderful woman and a good friend too now.
“She has seen what I’m trying to achieve and she is helping those ideas to develop. And that’s been one of the best things about taking this year out.”