Award-winning COAL is one of several shows Gary has choreographed unlikely beginnings he’s become an award-winning dancer, choreographer and artistic director, whose work has been seen in some of the UK’s most prestigious dance and theatre houses including The Barbican Centre, The Royal Opera House and The Southbank Centre. His CV is long and varied, but highlights include spending a decade with dance company The Cholmondeleys & The Featherstonehaughs (led by maverick choreographer Lea Anderson), and touring the world with Matthew Bourne’s iconic allmale version of Swan Lake. As a choreographer Clarke has been massively in demand, working on productions to commemorate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games – including The Opening Ceremony for the arrival of The Olympic Torch in Leeds – plus shows for Opera North, Sky Arts and Hull City of Culture 2017. He also created COAL, an award-winning large-scale touring show to mark the 30th anniversary of the end of the 1984/85 miners’ strike. His most recent project is with the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, choreographing one third of a digital dance triple bill called Locked down. Locked in. But living. It will be streamed online from September 28th. The Lawrence Batley has a special place in Clarke’s heart because it was here, aged 16, he saw contemporary dance for the first time, performed by an all-male dance troupe, The Featherstonehaughs. ‘That moment really stuck with me and inspired me,’ says Clarke. ‘After graduating from the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, I was lucky enough to join the Featherstonehaughs and perform with them at the Lawrence Batley Theatre. What’s more, it was that same piece that had inspired me as a teenager. It was like coming full circle.’ Not that Clarke simply breezed into his career. In his first year of formal training, the enormous discipline required to become a professional dancer nearly derailed him. ‘For me, dance was about He took notice and, by the second year, he was flying. ‘I feel very lucky that I had such amazing tutors, friends and colleagues to keep me on track,’ he says. ‘Because lots of my friends from Grimethorpe didn’t stay on track. A lot of them are in prison, and some of them are dead because of crime and drugtaking.’ Dance and movement has offered Clarke incredible career opportunities. More recently, he’s been working as a movement coach on big budget Hollywood blockbusters with the likes of Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Eddie Redmayne. ‘A friend of mine was a movement director on World War Z, a zombie film starring Brad Pitt, and asked me to come on board. The director wanted the zombies to have a high level of physicality and didn’t want to use CGI or special effects. I worked ABOVE: Gary Clarke’s love of dance has seen him excel in his career If Gary Clarke sounds like the real Billy Elliot, that’s because he is. He’s become an award-winning dancer, choreographer and artistic director, whose work has been seen in some of the UK’s most prestigious dance and theatre houses escapism, and emotion. It was a coping mechanism. It was about thrashing around, energy and a lack of control, not standing at a ballet barre and having a teacher tell you what to do. I was taken aside and it was explained to me that underneath it all there’s a technique and a skill that I’d have to learn if I wanted a career.’ 50 Yorkshire Life: October 2020
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