Blog: Gary Clarke

The openly gay man, choreographer and contemporary dance artist on celebrating 50 years of the decriminalisation of homosexuality

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I’ve been working in contemporary dance for 15 years and throughout my career I’ve been lucky to develop work with communities. Bringing non-dancers into the centre of performance opens up the creative process to being about people’s experiences, life and stories. Into The Light is very much about that.

As an associate artist of Yorkshire Dance, I was approached by the organisation to create a new dance performance for Hull UK City of Culture’s 2017 LGBT 50 events – commemorating the 50th year anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality. This large-scale contemporary piece, involving a mass dance, will be a centrepiece to Duckie’s Summer Tea Party – a fun and vibrant celebration bringing together thousands of people in Hull’s Queen Victoria Square.

For Into The Light we’re presenting a fast-forward version of LGBT+ history, looking back across five decades and paying tribute to the landmark events and individuals whose influence has shaped the future. From gay marriage and civil partnerships, the Aids epidemic and the first Gay Pride, through to times when homosexuality was secretive, audiences will see radical change. In contrast to homosexuality’s secretive past, this will be a spectacular family-friendly happening – a feast of colour, costume and live music in the bright, open air.

Several participants have a love for dance but many have never danced before

We’ll be performing among thousands of revellers and in front of some of Hull’s most famous landmarks – a challenge for any contemporary dance artist. But what’s unique about Into The Light is that it’s made by a mixed company – people from across Hull and professional dancers, working in unity.

We’ve got 42 people from Hull performing and collaborating together: members of the local LGBT community, supporters, volunteers, students, teachers, retired folk – people from all walks of life. Some people in our group are passionate about learning and teaching others about the struggle that came before them; others have lived through five decades and the headlines, shifting attitudes and events that shaped the present. Several participants have a love for dance, many have never danced before, but all of them are individuals of diverse ages, bodies, abilities and backgrounds, joining together to make this unique performance.

The community is working alongside eight professional dancers – Harry Theaker, TC Howard, Eleanor Perry, Daniel Gordon, Tamar Draper, Patrick Ziza, Dom Coffey and Natali McCleary. I’ve worked with them all on previous projects and they have the sensitivity, artistry and understanding needed in the creation of this piece. We discussed how to work with people as it’s important they aren’t being dictated to, or choreographed. It comes from them.

People usually start this process by saying they can’t dance – they don’t want to dance – so we begin by explaining that although this is a dance project, we’re interested in movement. People move every day without thinking about it, and we can frame natural gestures into choreography by expanding them, exaggerating them or structuring them so they have form.

This puts participants at ease – to know that they don’t need formal dance training to create work, and that they’ll be directly contributing their own creative ideas. By having an open, relaxed and honest rehearsal room there’s always a breakthrough, even with simple things, like to touch someone. You never touch strangers in society and yet we see people working closely with one another, with sensitivity and respect.

With the performance drawing ever closer we recently gave our group something that was challenging and conceptual. They embraced it. Tey’re becoming more comfortable and trusting, and from here ideas grow and bloom. They’ve contributed their own movement, ideas and words. We’re seeing incredible results, beautiful dance coming together.

As an openly gay man, a choreographer and contemporary dance artist, it’s an honour to be connecting with the local LGBT community, and instilling confidence and artistry in all the people involved in Into The Light. On Saturday 29 July we’ll be having a party, a coming together of the people of Hull, where we’ll have heaps of fun and entertain, but also educate audiences as we mark this milestone moment.

It’s going to be political and personal – a celebration, but strong, made with amazing collaborators.

Into The Light takes place on 29 Jul, 1pm-6pm, Queen Victoria Square, Hull, as part of Duckie Summer Tea Party. Free

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