Q&A: Joan Clevillé Dance
After their stunning Fringe debut with Plan B for Utopia, we get the low-down on Scotland’s freshest new dance company
After dancing with, and choreographing for, a number of international dance companies, Joan Clevillé tells us why he’s branching out on his own with new company, Joan Clevillé Dance.
The decision to start your own company, rather than just choreograph for other people, is a big one – can you explain your motivations for doing so?
I have done several commissions as a choreographer since I left Scottish Dance Theatre. I enjoy the challenge of creating something in a short period of time with people you have never met before. There is something quite refreshing about it, and as a former dancer in repertory companies, it is a format that I’m very familiar with.
However, I was looking forward to making my work in a format where I could explore things in more depth. With my own company, I am able to have much more control over the creative process: who do I work with, how much time do we need (to an extent!), how do we prepare for rehearsal, etc.
Finally, I wanted to learn from being in a position of Artistic Director. I had worked as a Rehearsal Director with Scottish Dance Theatre, so this felt like the natural progression. I enjoy having multiple responsibilities and being involved in the different strands of the project with the rest of team.
Text in dance can often be esoteric and alienating – yet the dialogue in Plan B for Utopia worked brilliantly, because every word the dancers speak feels honest, necessary and true (and very well delivered). You wrote, directed and choreographed the piece – how did you find that process?
Interestingly, I was involved with amateur theatre before I started to dance. I even wrote and performed a play as a teenager, but somehow I had forgotten about that! Then I re-found the joy of working with text and theatrical elements while working with Scottish Dance Theatre, Lost Dog and Dog Kennel Hill Project in London.
When we started researching Plan B for Utopia, it became clear to me that we would need words to deliver this story and I just plunged into it and followed a trial and error approach. At the beginning, both the ideas and the fictional scenarios were much more cumbersome, and some of it felt untrue.
Both dramaturg Ella Hickson and the dancers were vital in helping me to focus my ideas and distil them in the text. Although Ella has a playwriting background, she was adamant to use as little words as possible and helped us understand that the key to the script was what the dancers were doing rather than what they were actually saying to each other.
Watching the show, I laughed out loud (a lot), had tears in my eyes, and thought "so it's not just me who feels that way" on a number of occasions. When you were creating the work, what were you hoping your audiences would feel/think/experience?
It is true that a lot of people seem to be very engaged by the work, and I think the performers play a very important part in this. It is through the honesty of their physical and emotional journey that we are drawn into the piece and its content. We empathise with their struggle and, by the end of the evening we find ourselves caring about these two strangers.
I am definitely not interested in ‘preaching’ to the audience or telling anyone how they should live their lives, so when creating the piece, we were hoping to create an environment where we could share our questions openly with the audience and give them space to draw their own conclusions.