Shrouded in darkness, the rear of the stage contains a square rug, a chest of drawers, a TV and an armchair. A spotlight picks out a small red plastic stacking chair near the stage front. A lone man in drab, loose clothes falls onto stage and throws his body around. He dances by and around the stacking chair, rising and falling to a distorted soundscape, body contorting and arms flailing. As mental turmoil is given physical presence on stage, his movements are actually very hard to watch. Projected overhead are newsreels of the NUM miners’ strike, and found film footage of locker rooms, time-card racks and other communal spaces where miners interacted routinely. Piano music plays. Later, four stacking plastic chairs are added to the front of the stage in one long line; four older men appear holding small cards. Flanked by two brass musicians, this small choir of five men form the coal pit singers while the grainy backcloth projection tells the story of the strike, the police interventions, the closure of the mines and the break-up of the mining communities.
Wasteland starts with a lyric physicality that uses the body – rather than words – to convey moods, states of mind. Very loosely centred on an intergenerational story of an ex-miner father and the son, both their choreographed fights and care for each other are poignantly expressed in dance. On a single mattress on the bare stage floor, the son flex rhythmically to music on his headphones. He loses his dour, hunched appearance and comes alive. In contrast to the painful physicality of his father’s dance, the son’s movements are more controlled, even a celebration of the body. Both Alistair Goldsmith as father and Reece Claver as son are superb in their roles. Later, the son is joined by four other dancers, all dressed in hoodies and baggy trousers, and the scene shifts seamlessly and economically to the underground, transgressive warehouse raves of the early nineties. Counter-cultural flouting of law and order comes by way of small vignettes cleverly inserted into the routines – the stealing from a coat left on the chair; a supermarket trolley wheeled about; the riding of a small bicycle on stage; the taking of drugs. Confrontations with police are suggested through film projection, and signified on stage by hands seemingly bound together, and also by the use of Jim Cauty’s Riot Shields with painted acid house smileys (the latter actually created for the 2012 Occupy St Pauls movement). The raves, which take up much of the stage time of Wasteland, are full of raw, exuberant, anarchic energy, with the dancers sometimes operating as a single unit, or with one dancer imitating another’s movements, suggesting a coming together. The music’s exaggerated bass, the clever use of pools of coloured light as well as the strobe-like lighting recreate the ambience of the rave warehouses. The wail of police sirens, and archival film footage of “Kill the  Bill” protests, suggest confrontations that hark back to the miners’ strike. The effect is a deliberate sensory overload so that, immersed in sounds and surrounded by movement, you can’t but be drawn in, becoming part of the event. And all the time, the father, sitting forlornly in his armchair in his little square, is still visible upstage.
Wasteland is a sequel to Coal, Gary Clarke’s award-winning dance theatre showing the impact of the pit closures of the 1980s. Clarke’s two productions are grounded in his experiences growing up in a poverty-stricken working class mining village in South Yorkshire. The emergence of an underground, transgressive rave subculture in the North gave many young people, Clarke says, an escape to a ‘new world of expressive music and hard-core dance.’ I don’t frequent many dance recitals but this one is a revelation: a charged and emotional story, rendered not only through music, soundscapes and film projections, but in how the body and its poetry can made to signify. Raw, sad, exciting, exuberant and uplifting in equal measure. If it passes your way, go see it.