Barnsley born dancer and choreographer, Gary Clarke has been described as one the most exciting new talents in contemporary dance and has received critical and audience acclaim. He’s worked with renowned choreographers including the late Nigel Charnock and Javier De Frutos and notched up a CV of dance successes. I caught up with him recently to find about his current performance.
Chris: I’m really looking forward to seeing your new show, “Ménage a Trois”. Any show that’s described as a raunchy, riotous mix of dance, theatre and cabaret definitely gets my vote. Can you tell us a bit more about the show?
Gary: Ménage a Trois is made up of three of my recent dance works, one of which was commissioned by Brighton Pride. I had a brief, which was to comment on the Pride Movement; whether battles still need to be won or whether it’s an excuse for gay men to have a party and take drugs. It was a response to that and is called Cameo Cookie. It’s a one woman show. The woman represents Anita Bryant, the 70s anti-gay rights campaigner. We see her as this strong opinionated religious woman and through the 20 minute piece we see her destruct crumble and break down to the point of destruction where she starts to celebrate the gay rights movement. The piece was initially made for the street and choreographed for outside The Barfly, an old derelict nightclub in Brighton.
The second work is a work called Two Men and a Michael which I choreographed as a bit of an accident a few years ago and it’s done incredibly well. It’s based on the queer artists Gilbert and George. It also looks at old British entertainment like Morecombe and Wise stand up comics and also the failure of this and how unfunny it can be. It’s about nonsense and there’s little snapshot vignette moments throughout the work. What we do is change the cast all the time so I always get two people to come and learn it a couple of days before the show. This adds a live element where sometimes the material comes apart and goes wrong because they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s really genuine and all the time they’ve got to keep a dead pan face so they’re not allowed to smile at all so it has this amazing tension which you never would get with rehearsed work. The gender changes as well. It was originally done with two men, then a man and a woman, then two women. I always add a section in just before they go on stage to keep them on their toes a little bit.
The third work is the oldest of the three and is called Horsemeat. This was a solo which I made a couple of years ago. It came from me turning 25 and learning that I needed to grow up a little bit. It’s autobiographical and looks at episodes I went through as a gay man growing up. I got Javier de Frutos and Nigel Charnock (who recently passed away) to come in and mentor the work which was fantastic as they’re two gay men who’d made autobiographical works so they fitted perfectly. Horsemeat is very camp and funny. It looks at life and love and breakdowns. There’s popular music like T-Rex, Diana Ross and the Supremes and Erasure in there.
Chris: The show sounds fantastic. I’m looking forward to it even more now.
Gary: There’s also another element to the show. I’ve got two drag queens that animate the intervals. What happens is that when the audience arrive the bar is dressed in a particular way and the drag queens perform vignettes and interact with the audience. It acts as a prelude to the work that the audience is about to see. In the intervals the bar area gets transformed and they get changed and perform again. What I really want is for audiences to feel that they’re on a night out rather than just a night in the theatre. Ménage a Trois is more of an experience than just coming to a theatre to see three pieces of work.
Chris: A lot of people are put off seeing dance as they associate it with upper middle class pursuits like classical ballet or obscure posturing to loud electro music. What would you say to encourage people to come and see dance?
Gary: People like me have always tried to smash through that preconception about contemporary dance. I know from myself that I always make shows for real people. I’m from a mining village in a very poor working class town so when I’m making my work I always test it out on my family. If my family enjoy it then anyone can enjoy it. There are so many genres, styles and subject matters in contemporary dance that you can’t just categorise or put stuff in boxes. It’s really important that people just get out and go and see stuff and be exposed to many different kinds of work. With my work I really try to communicate entertainment, as well as trying to send a message and keep the work mature and integral. I like to be entertained and I like to entertain.
Chris: You mentioned Gilbert and George and I know previously you’ve mentioned stuff like Francis Bacon, The Stepford Wives, the 1950s, the destructive nature of the gay scene and gay disco. What are your main influences currently?
Gary: Weirdly, I’ve gone full circle and am making an autobiographical work again. I’m interested in break-ups and the loss of love and what that does to you. How one person’s decision can change you and influence who you are. I’m looking a lot at life at the minute and relationships; human relationships and people. Rather than taking a subject matter like Francis Bacon or something more subjective; I’m taking something that is quite human and working with dancers about emotions and human response and instincts. I guess it’s somewhat rawer and more poignant.
Chris: Being from Barnsley, how would you respond to people’s views that art and culture only exists in London?
Gary: Well, I think they’ve got a point. London is the hub of art and culture and the reason for that is that it’s the capital and is rich in money, population and cultures. However, I believe that I’ve got a responsibility as an artist outside of London to enrich and instil art in my local area and where I’m from. Otherwise, that’s never going to change. People will just go to London. I ran away to London straight after university. I lived there for ten years. However, I’d always come home and always made my work at home and will always show it locally before I take it to London. I just think we have a responsibility to try to change things. Artists complain about it but we’re the ones who can change that. No one else can. As artists we’ve got to take our work to places, not just complain that it’s not there. It’s somewhat harder but also somewhat easier. You can do your own thing more. I think sometimes, London is too influential on how popular you are or how cool and trendy you are.
Chris: As long as your Mum likes it too?
Gary: I always test everything out my Mum. If I get the thumbs up from my Mum it’s a win win.
Ménage a Trois can be seen at Deda in Derby on the 16th of November: http://www.deda.uk.com/performances/gary-clarke-m-nage-trois
To read more about Gary, his website is: http://www.garyclarkeuk.com
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He’s usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.