Scottish Dance Theatre's Joan Clevillé: 'I'd love to bring dance to people's lives in a more direct way'

Joan Clevillé: ''

credit: Alan Richardson

Q&A with Scottish Dance Theatre's new artistic director

A former dancer with the Dundee-based company, Barcelonan Joan Clevillé will take up the reins at Scottish Dance Theatre in April. We talk to him about his hopes and plans for the future of Scotland's national contemporary dance company.

What went through your mind when you heard that Scottish Dance Theatre was looking for a new artistic director?

I thought 'here it is, the opportunity'. I'll confess I was really surprised that Fleur Darkin was leaving, I didn't see it coming. I had imagined myself continuing to work as an independent artist for quite a few years before considering stepping into a role like this. But at the same time, it's an opportunity I've been dreaming of for a long time.

Having been a dancer with Scottish Dance Theatre, then rehearsal director – and deciding to stay in Dundee – being artistic director of the company was always something I'd aspired to but never dreamt I would be able to do. But suddenly here it was, so as much as it was a daunting opportunity, at the same time I knew I had no choice in terms of applying, I had to try.

What do you think was in your application, and your interview, that won you the job?

A few things. Somebody told me recently that I was a good combination of dreaming, vision and artistic energy, but at the same time I'm quite comfortable in very practical and strategic thinking. I'm very happy with a spreadsheet, it's kind of my guilty pleasure.

I'm very interested in the practise and integrity of the artistic practise, what happens in the studio and how we work together. And I have values around inclusivity and diversity, that I think came across. And probably also the fact that I'm already imbedded in the Scottish dance scene – having that inside knowledge of the company, of audiences in Scotland, of artists working in Scotland, the challenges and potential.

Tell us an early memory from your time as a dancer with Scottish Dance Theatre.

One of the first things I remember is that sense of international ambition. I arrived at the company in June 2009 and that autumn we headed off to Dubai and China. I had come from working at Ballet of the Graz Opera in Austria, and that company had a really high status in the city but we never moved from there, people always had to come to us. So to suddenly be in an environment where we were reaching people as far away as China was incredible.

And at the same time as we were doing that, we would come back to Dundee, pack up the van and go to Ardrishaig in Argyll and perform in a community centre. That combination showed the company had a very real determination to connect with people, and that was a real game-changer for me.

Joan Clevillé: ''

What do you think you've learned over the past few years running your own company, Joan Clevillé Dance, that you'll take into running Scottish Dance Theatre?

Investment in people. I feel very much that I'm here because of mutual investment. I've invested in my dancers, collaborators, producers and venues, and they've all invested in me. If you're making things with people, then it's about allowing yourself to be decisive but also vulnerable and open to dancers challenging you or proposing ideas. If you manage to get your ego out of the way, then collaboration can be such a fruitful and inspiring thing.

And this investment in people, and in learning together, inspiring and empowering each other, is something I definitely would like to carry forward. Not only in terms of the teams and collaborators I'm going to be working with at Scottish Dance Theatre, but also to audiences, participants and everyone we engage with.

What is your vision for Scottish Dance Theatre's future?

I think it's a vision based on artistic exploration, on driving the artform forward and of creating opportunities for learning within and outside the company. Whatever we do needs to be driven by those three things: exploring, learning and connecting.

In terms of what we do, I'm interested in making work for mid-scale venues of course, and we're definitely going to keep our ties with the rest of the world and with international choreographers who are going to keep on creating work for Scottish Dance Theatres.

But I think it's also important to develop works in smaller formats that are flexible and have a more direct way of engaging with our audiences in a closer proximity. And then I'd love to develop work that goes out to where people are, rather than always trying to get them into the theatre, to go where they are – whether that's at a music festival, in the street, wherever they are. I'd love to try to bring dance to people's lives in a more direct way and broaden our audience.

Whenever choreographers work with Scottish Dance Theatre, they've always very complimentary about the dancers and the location. What do you feel is unique about the company?

I think it's partly to do with place. Being based in an organisation like Dundee Rep, and being based in the city of Dundee, on the periphery, in a place that seems really real, it literally gives you space, it gives you room to play without feeling incredibly observed or under pressure. And I think it's a really unique environment to create in because you focus in a really healthy, wholesome way.

When the company was started by Royston Maldoom, it came out a group of dancers engaging with the communities in Dundee, and that has never disappeared, that desire to connect and dig into what makes us human. There's a humanity in the core of this company that I think comes out of that sense of place and where we are.