Gavin Higgins was just a babe in arms during the Miners’ Strike of 1984, but that death knell for King Coal remains an intrinsic part of the composer’s family background – connections he has referenced in the brass band music for Dark Arteries, part of Rambert’s triple bill at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre tomorrow night.

In 1984, Rambert’s artistic director Mark Baldwin was a young dancer with the company, travelling from venue to venue on the tour bus and becoming aware, en route, of events that spoke of defiance in the face of desperate times. His 2014 choreography for Dark Arteries harks back to those days of pivotal change, and to the aftermath that left mining communities devastated – a particular scenario and a specific moment in history that Baldwin’s intentionally non-narrative dance uses to reflect on the nature of conflict and change, tradition and transition.

If preparing for Dark Arteries – the title comes from a poem, Rhondda Valley, by Mervyn Peake – involved Baldwin setting his dancers improvisational tasks that centred on crowd mentality and ‘fight versus flight’ reactions in the midst of confrontation, nothing bar the actual presence of some 30 musicians could give them a true sense of what the music felt, and sounded, like. “I think some of them were expecting a kind of Brassed Off score,” laughs Higgins, “and were wondering what kind of dance they could do to that, for forty minutes. Audiences, too, tend to have this very old-fashioned image of what brass bands offer – marches and hymns and jolly lollipops mostly. That Victorian repertoire is still a part of what many bands play but it’s not all they can do – and I think the music for Dark Arteries shows that. Shows just how incredibly talented these ‘amateur’ musicians are, and how committed they are to banding.”

In every sense, this response from the brass bands Rambert has already worked with – the Whitburn Band is on-stage in Edinburgh – is music to Higgins’s ears. He openly details why collaborating with Mark Baldwin on Dark Arteries reaches well beyond an interesting commission. “I grew up in a family of ex-miners in the Forest of Dean ,” he says. “Grandparents, their parents, going back for generations – some of them were actually ‘freeminers’.If you were born in the Forest of Dean you were legally entitled to freemine – apply for a plot of land, a permit, and just start digging for coal. You were self-employed, but also part of a community that has gone now, with the closing down of mining in the area. The mining had meant brass bands, so I also grew up in a band-ing family. My first teachers were really my two grand-dads and I suppose what I was also learning at the time was the history and outcomes of that 1984 strike. As I got older, I saw – through the number of brass bands that were folding and disappearing – that the closure of the pits had destroyed an entire way of life in communities everywhere. And the brutality and speed at which it happened...” Even without him finishing the sentence, his voice tells of the lasting, appalled impression made on him: the music for Dark Arteries has a personal intensity running in its veins.

The score – his second Rambert commission since What Wild Ecstasy for Baldwin in 2012 – falls into three very different parts. It opens with an aural landscape that conjures up the feel and context of a pit – both Higgins and Baldwin donned hard hats and went underground as part of their shared researches. The middle section is, according to Higgins, “aggressive, noisy, full throttle ”. For Baldwin, it triggers memories of those strike days but even if the on-stage musicians sit behind riot shields – cunningly warped into music stands – he wants the dance to move beyond the politics of that time. “Gavin’s music is full of the energies of impassioned struggle,” he says. “You don’t need to know about, or be connected to the politics of 1984 to feel what that music is about.” The third part is a kind of hopeful calm after that storm. “There is, I think, an air of looking back in it,” says Higgins, “but not, I hope, in a nostalgic way. I’d like it to be about the heritage that so many of today’s brass bands are keen to take forward, bring to new audiences. Our bands get very little financial support from funders, unlike in Norway where there’s massive support for a huge brass band scene. We need to nurture our bands more, not just because of the heritage they represent but because of the music they make. Dark Arteries is a complex, challenging work – the bands who are playing it are not just fantastic technicians, they’re true artists doing it not for financial rewards but for the love of it.”

Dark Arteries, with the Whitburn Band live, is part of Rambert’s programme at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh from tomorrow to Saturday.