The Monthly interviews Gary Clarke, Artistic Director of the Gary Clarke Company – Part 1 – The Company and the Work

Could you tell the readers of The Monthly about your work?

My name is Gary Clarke and I am the Artistic Director of the Gary Clarke Company which is a mid-scale touring contemporary dance and physical theatre company, which makes work that reflects and comments on working class culture, history and people.

And where are you from?

I am from a coal mining village called Grimethorpe in South Yorkshire. The village is really famous for coal mining; it was home to one of the deepest coal mines in the UK. It was very well known and the whole village was built around the coal mine and I grew up in that community and I also grew up during the 1984/85 British miner’s strike so I have also seen the political angle regarding coal mining and the coal industry.


How did that affect you?

I realised, when I became older, that I have been plugged into politics since I was a very young boy in various different ways. And that has bled through into the work that I create. I am very passionate about telling stories, and I am also passionate about breaking down pre-conceptions about contemporary dance and about making it accessible to working class audiences. Audiences which may have never seen contemporary dance before.

They may be new to theatre and to using dance as a way of re-telling history but there is an important point in the works that I create in that I am telling stories which allow us to learn from history so that we can shape the future. That is also my way of adding to the legacy of working class culture.

Could you tell us then about the work your company has produced?

We made a piece of work called “Coal” which celebrates the Miners’ Strike, telling the story of a day in the life of a coal miner. The production did incredibly well. The show toured for three years and was very well received, we had amazing responses, won awards and people from working class communities came to see the show. That was brilliant. I created a sequel to that show called “Wasteland” and that will be performed at The MAC in Belfast.

Beyond that, my company brings in local communities wherever we go, so that we connect with local communities and we bring them into the work we do and encourage them to see the show. We give them an opportunity to perform with a professional company. The process allows us to connect with local people, to hear their stories and weave them in to the tapestry of our performances. We aim to gain authenticity through that process.

Why do you use that process?

We do try and make sure that the communities we work with have a connection to the stories we are exploring. I think it feels wrong to write stories about working class communities without involving those communities.

We also try and connect with local musicians, so for both “Coal” and “Wasteland” we connected with championship brass bands all around the country and they played a beautiful brass score for our production.  This meant that they had a new experience performing with a live contemporary dance company as a part of the production, and of course these musicians were performing to a new audience.

We call this “Real Communities on Professional Stages” so it isn’t quite community dance, it is very much a professional touring company working in tandem with community participation and engagement. In terms of how the company functions, we have a non-hierarchical structure, so everyone is treated in the same way. We make sure that there is a democratic process and that everyone is treated as an integral part of the show and we ensure that everyone is treated equally, whether they are professionals or people from local communities.

(Cover Photo on CAP Website – Josh Hawkins)

For more information and to connect with the work of the Gary Clarke Company see the following link –

artist forms link
New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.