waste top


Gary Clarke Company

Birmingham Rep


There is a theory in the media that seems to be cropping up more often these days known as The Nostalgia Pendulum.

It is the idea that pop culture continuously resurfaces trends from 30 years ago, which in turn informs the kind of content we consume. It’s not an exact science but it makes sense that creators from the world of tv, film, music, dance and drama grow up having been influenced by media from their childhoods and want to explore that through their chosen art form. 

This year I have seen two performances that support the Nostalgia Pendulum theory, one was the Olivier award winning musical Standing at the Sky’s edge, and the other was Gary Clarkes Wasteland.

A contemporary dance theatre piece that closes its tour this week at the Birmingham Rep. Two very different performances but with striking echoes of each other which is mostly down to the subject matter. The pendulum has swung back around 30 years to the time after the devastating dismantling of the coal mines and industrial north.

While Sky’s edge looks at how events affected the generations of one family, Wasteland however is concerned with how society changed in the years following and what grew out of it, namely the birth of the illegal rave scene in the early 90s.

A sequel to Gary Clarke Company's award-winning COAL, Clarke uses almost every trick of dance theatre to tell his story. There is of course the company of dancers, lead by Parsifal James Hurst as The Last Miner and Rob Anderson as The Boy.


There is also a brass band (reminiscent of those Northern works bands) that appear on stage and accompany a cast of Pit Men Singers, who while they do not dance provide some really powerful and heartfelt moments with soul stirring harmonies. 

The set design, by Ryan Dawson Laight is bleak and sparse and feels like it has been there for decades just rusting away. Much like Hurst’s character who spends a good portion of his stage time slumped in his lounge chair while the world (and his son) raves around him.

There is also projection used that includes archive film footage of demonstrations and newscasts that helps to support the narrative. But the prime method of storytelling is through dance.

Clarke has managed to create a movement style that captures the essence of rave culture, The feeling of freedom and euphoria is captured through the athleticism and commitment of the dancers. The choreography plays with and against the thundering rave soundtrack and there are a couple of moments where you could see the cast just relished in what they were doing.

The music for the rave scenes is definitely authentic (in part provided by KLF) and this is where I struggled slightly to stay connected. For as loud as it is the rave soundtrack is repetitive to the point of annoyance and I found this created a disconnect where I couldn’t fully engage with the performance.

Clarke says that his intention for Wasteland was to understand the rave movement. I’m not sure that Wasteland deepened my understanding or explored any hidden aspect of the culture, but what it did was remind us of a time when a whole generation's response to government inflicted struggle was to find a release through music and dance. To 19-05-23

Janine Henderson


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