Thursday, 1 June 2017

Northern Dramaturgy: Joan Clevillé @ Edfringe 2017

Joan Clevillé Dance presents: 
The North 
The tale of a young man’s journey in search for meaning in an unpredictable environment blending dance, theatre and music
Conceived and directed by Joan Clevillé 
Dance Base, 5 – 13 Aug 2017 (not 7), 16.15 (17.15)

In this new work co-commissioned by Tramway and The Place, choreographer Joan Clevillé explores our fascination with the idea of North: the landscape, the light, the creatures that inhabit it, but also the people, the dark humour, the silence. 

Fresh from the success of their debut work Plan B for Utopia, The North creates a place with its own sense of time and space, where being lost is the norm, and letting go the only way to survive. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I was born in Barcelona, but after eight years of living in Scotland and working in other Scandinavian countries like Sweden, you could say that the Northern landscape, its people and stories have become a very important part of my everyday life. I am also fascinated by the complexity and subjective character of the idea of ‘North’, a notion which is always relative to where you stand and that keeps receding as you move towards it…

The North we present in the piece is a place of the imagination. Rather than describing a realistic environment, I was interested in evoking a human experience, a sense of disorientation, of being humbled by an environment that is stronger than us and that forces us to let go in order to survive.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?
Absolutely! We have lost our communal spaces to discuss ideas, to come together as a community and share our questions and thoughts. A place to be inspired and challenged by others. To recognise our common nature and to share our vulnerabilities. 

Digital and printed media can certainly give us a chance to express ourselves and discuss issues, but it is something very different to physically come together in a theatre (or a church hall, a gallery or a public square) and go through a shared experience together. It is a completely different way of engaging your mind, body and soul. Performance is about sharing energy, it is physically palpable and that’s why it can be so powerful.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I started creating work quite early on in my career as a dancer. It was a way to develop my own movement vocabulary and find my own interest as an artist and a performer.

Nowadays, it is more a way of learning about myself, of digging into my own soul and sharing what I find with others. It helps me to understand the world inside me, but at the same time, it is also my way to ‘act’ in the environment around me. I often feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the challenges we currently face, both on a personal and a global scale. Making performance is one of the few strategies I have to make a direct intervention, to attempt to bring change. I know from my own experience, that performance has a hugely transformative power and can have unexpected impacts on people’s lives.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
I don’t feel like I have a particular method of making work. I didn’t have a masterplan before we went into the studio and I could have never predicted what the show has become.

The creation process started with lots of reading and the study of art works and films related to the idea of North. We then spent some weeks researching in the studio with the dancers. I kept on swinging between very formal approaches (related to movement exploration) and more theatrical ideas. 

At some point the pendulum stopped swinging, and the work started to take shape. This is probably the most intense and critical part of the creation, where you have to manage the uncertainty of the process and trust that the piece will reveal itself.

Once we had a draft or rough sketch of the work, there was a long process of crafting and interrogating the material further, working in details. Feedback from an outside perspective was really important at this stage. For this production, we were very lucky to work again with Dramaturg Advisor Ella Hickson.

She has an incredibly sharp eye and, as a playwright, her field of expertise is meaning. It was really useful to have her input in making sure that our ideas were communicating the way we wanted, and that the world and characters we were creating on stage were consistent with themselves.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
Yes, I think that audiences from Plan B for Utopia will definitely recognise the choreographic language and dramaturgic approach in this work. However, I also feel that we have taken that language further. From my point of view, it feels more confident and mature, less concerned about pleasing and more connected with our own interests as a company.

In any case, the piece has a different feeling: there is more space and intrigue in The North and the humour is darker and more surreal. The performers do not address the audience directly, but we watch them interact with each other as characters inhabiting their own world. An audience member told me it was like pressing her nose against a snow globe!

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope that audiences will find themselves immersed in a world of its own (both familiar and disconcertingly strange), and that they get a real taste of a specific place, a place with its own sense of time and space.

I also hope that they connect to the main character’s journey in search for meaning in an unpredictable environment. His journey reminds me very much of my own struggle in trying to feel comfortable with uncertainty…

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
I think constantly about the audience’s experience. Every detail matters to create this sense of ‘world’: from the pre-show music to how the dancers enter and leave the stage.

Of course, we also considered the rhythm of scenes within the full arc of the piece, and how the different languages (dance, spoken word, singing, puppetry) are introduced and intersect with each other. For me, it is important that the audience’s experience flows in an organic way, so we don’t notice the seams or the changes of gear.

There is also a fine balance to strike between meaning (how much information we give to the audience) and abstraction. Although there is a ‘plot’ in the work, I didn’t want the audience to get too distracted with it. Hopefully there is still enough room for them to lose themselves and to connect with ideas/feelings/experiences that are beyond what can be said.

Sourcing inspiration from film and literature, the company explores the concept of the elusive North through the tale of one man’s whimsical journey through a barren landscape. 

With original music composed by Luke Sutherland (former collaborator of Mogwai) and a striking lighting design by Emma Jones, Joan Clevillé Dance merge their characteristically playful style of dance and physical theatre with puppetry. The North will feature dancers Solène Weinachter (Lost Dog, Gecko, Scottish Dance Theatre), John Kendall (balletLORENT), and Eve Ganneau (Andersson Dance, Scottish Dance Theatre). 

Following the world premiere at Dance International Glasgow in May, Joan Clevillé Dance will be bringing both The North and Plan B for Utopia, which has been selected as part of the British Council Showcase and Made in Scotland Showcase, to the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. 

Artistic Director Joan Clevillé said “The idea of the 'North' is different for everybody, depending on where you are geographically, and is also permanently elusive, as it always recedes as you move towards it. The North we describe in the piece is a place of the imagination, a liminal space in between places, somewhere between a limbo and a waiting room. There is definitely a Nordic feel to it, but it’s open, desolate and unpredictable. Rather than realistically describing one environment, which cinema is so good at, I am more interested in the human experience. I wanted to evoke a sense of disorientation, of being humbled by an environment that is stronger than us and that forces us to let go in order to survive.

I am thrilled to be coming back to Dance Base to present our second full-length production at the Fringe. It’s been amazing to continue our collaboration with the team of artists that created Plan B for Utopia. Our followers will recognise the playfulness and versatility of our performers, but this new work has an intriguing, almost cinematic feel, that we hope will take audiences on a completely different journey”.

Joan Clevillé Dance is an independent dance company based in the city of Dundee, Scotland. Led by Artistic Director Joan Clevillé, the company’s practice is rooted both in movement research and experimentation with theatre and storytelling, challenging the conventional boundaries between genres. The company aims to create intimate works that are honest, original and thought-provoking, inviting audiences to share the performers’ enquiry about themselves, each other, and the world we live in. 

Joan Clevillé Dance Company will also be performing their acclaimed Plan B for Utopia at Pleasance Two, Pleasance Courtyard 21st – 27th Aug as part of Made In Scotland Showcase and British Council Edinburgh Showcase.  

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