28 Jul 2017

Q&A with Into The Light curator and choreographer, Gary Clarke

We learn more about Yorkshire Dance’s community performance for A Duckie Summer Tea Party.

Following Duckie’s spectacular 50 Queers for 50 Years at Pride in Hull last weekend, the performance collective will be presenting A Duckie Summer Tea Party to round off our LGBT 50 celebrations this Saturday before a sold out live BBC Radio 2 concert in Hull City Hall, I Feel Love, and Duckie’s afterparty at Fuel.

The tea party in Queen Victoria Square is free, unticketed and open to everyone. The square will be transformed into a stunning event space and we’ll welcome thousands of people to drink tea, party and dance!

There to help us do so will be award winning choreographer Gary Clarke and his army of 50 dancers. Produced by Yorkshire Dance, Into the Light will present a fast-forward version of LGBT+ history, in a performance commemorating the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. Looking back at landmark events in LGBT+ history over five decades, from a world in which homosexuality was illegal through to present day, the performance brings together eight contemporary dance artists and 42 people from Hull, ranging from under 16s to over 60s, amateur dancers to those who’ve never been involved in dance before.

Gary, tell us a bit about yourself…

I’m an independent dance artist, choreographer and artist director, I’ve been working in the dance industry for about 15 years now. I trained at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance and I’ve worked professionally as a dancer for many companies all around the world. I’ve been making my own work for the past 10 years.

I’ve worked on a real variety of projects, I did a lot of projects linked to the Cultural Olympiad creating work for big groups of people. I’ve also done lots of large and small scale site specific work that’s non-theatre based, so pieces for galleries, museums, on boats, in ships, on the streets in nightclubs and for cabaret.

The piece for LGBT 50 is a ‘a fast-forward version of LGBT history’ – can you give us an insight into what that means and how you’ll portray this through dance?

I started to look back at the last 50 years and I was really interested to look at the five decades and try and to identify key events, figures and people that have changed the future of the LGBT community. So, people like Peter Tatchell and John Gielgud even going right through to people like Freddie Mercury who had a big impact in the 90s with not only his music but also being an openly gay man and dying of AIDS. Then working right through to gay marriage which we’re at today.

We’ve been looking back at some of these events, but the challenge has been to make it look spectacular and impressive. We’ve been working with a costume designer who’s going to create a beautiful representation of the five decades as well as creating a unity between everybody too. We’re also working with a live band called Best Fiends, they’re a three-piece rock band, so the idea is that the music has reference to the five decades too. It should feel like a collage of all of these decades.

We’ll be telling it through the idea of movement and gesture, we’ve been working out where the action is so it can be translated into the art of movement. We’re also using spoken word which will come through the form of a megaphone. I work in contemporary dance which can be quite an abstract form, so the idea is that we have spoken word to help frame the activity and action so the audience can make a link between the movement and the context and the history of where it’s come from.

I think it’s too easy when we talk about LGBT+ and arts and society we talk about a particular style and sense which generally sometimes can be quite camp, over the top and celebratory.

What research did you do in preparation for the dance?

We discovered that in the 70s there was the first ever gay Pride in London which was led by the Gay Liberation Front and that changed the future of LGBT+ communities in this country. It wasn’t a party then, it was a protest and a parade and it had a political message. We looked on YouTube, at photos, and references, and printed these out to display in the studio so the community group can link and understand with the history too.

How have you overcome the challenges of creating a dance for a public space?

Creating a dance for a public space is so different to creating it for theatre, the first challenge was the monument in Queen Victoria Square. You’ve constantly got to have an awareness of sight lines and that the audience will be all around the action. We have to be careful that there’s no dead space and at all points in the piece the space is animated somehow with people.

Also, another challenge is that around the square there’s architecture, buildings and details. Often when you take this kind of dance from a studio to a public space, a lot of this is lost. So I’m creating big mass movements that will stand out above all of this architecture and within the general public so it feels like it’s a statement somehow.

Tell us about the mass dance which will close the Duckie tea party…

At the end of Into the Light we’re encouraging the people of Hull to get involved! We’ve choreographed this simple, easy dance using movements and gestures from the show that anyone can learn. This piece is about community and people and coming together and I think that’s a really lovely message that actually, we can transcend that what happens on our stage into the audience and they can pick up on that and become one – become part of the community.

What’s it been like to work with non-professional dancers?

It’s really refreshing. It’s lovely having such a wide range of ages, experiences and backgrounds in the room. We’ve tried to get them to create, to think, to move – which has its challenges – but actually I love the idea that dance can inspire people, and it’s a way of communication and expression. I think it’s important that as artists we engage with people in the world that are not necessarily directly in the arts, but we can throw our net wide and see who picks it up.

What do you hope audiences can get from Into the Light?

I think it’s important that people are educated. It’s too easy when we talk about LGBT+ and arts and society we talk about a particular style and sense which generally sometimes can be quite camp, over the top and celebratory. That’s wonderful but Into the Light is more political, it’s going to inform people that might not know what happened in the ’80s and the ’90s as a result of Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28 and what damage that had on the gay community. I want to educate the public and the people of Hull about some of the issues that the gay community have faced over the years.

 

You can see Into The Light at A Duckie Summer Tea Party on Sat 29 Jul throughout the day from 1pm-6pm in Queen Victoria Square. And don’t forget to learn the dance too!

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