plan B: And Now...

plan B 'And Now...' photo: Noel Shelley

We catch up with Aisla Cullen, Producer of one of Scotland’s leading dance companies plan B to find out more about their latest intriguing production And Now… which has been critically praised as “…a playful, perceptive and thought-provoking piece that explores identity and aspirations” (Mary Brennan, The Herald).

Can you tell us a bit about the history of plan B?

Based in Ross-shire in the Highlands, plan B was established in 1989 by Frank McConnell and Caroline Docherty. The company explore new ways of creating and presenting dance and theatre, utilising the inherent capacity of the arts for transforming peoples’ lives and galvanising communities. Though much of this work is developed at our rural base, we are committed to presenting the work and making connections locally, nationally and internationally.

Led throughout by award winning choreographer, Frank McConnell, the company has always been committed to a bold and imaginative style which is innovative in its devising and accessible in its delivery. plan B’s vision is to be an invaluable source of creativity in the Highlands through creating, producing and presenting original dance performances and by promoting participation in dance at all levels and for all abilities.

plan b 'And now...'. Photo: Noel Shelley 

plan B has recently established a new ensemble – tell us about the company members?

Having successfully secured Creative Scotland regular funding status for 2015-2018 we embarked on a new and significant chapter in our creative life - establishing a permanent ensemble of four talented dance artists; Glen McArtney, Katie Armstrong, Kirsty Pollock and Joanne Pirrie.

It’s an exciting start to a new era that sees plan B bring people and skills to the area as well as providing opportunities for young people to pursue a career in dance and live in the Highlands. 

Tell us about the inspiration behind your new work ‘And Now...’?

'And Now...' is plan B’s debut production of the company’s new ensemble. It’s the first in a series of dance theatre works reflecting on themes of ‘Where we are going?'

Scotland experienced a political sea-change in 2014 as the country considered its future as an independent nation. There were few people living in the country who failed to be engaged with the momentum from both sides of the debate, evidenced by the highest ever turn out recorded for an election or referendum in the UK of 84.6%. It was this democratic engagement and particularly the huge number of young people who got involved which inspired plan B to explore what the implications of that debate might be and ask “what happens next?”

The piece is a witty and inventive take on what it is we want to be when we grow up. As much to do with decision making in early adulthood and the choices we don’t remember making, as with re-defining the shape of the nation in a post-referendum world.

Choreographed and directed by Frank McConnell, this is the first opportunity to see plan B’s new ensemble – four of Scotland’s most electrifying dancers. Accompanied by a powerful ambient score from award-winning composer Jim Sutherland, the piece is overlaid with pulsating live music from the wonderfully, witty sax player Steve Kettley who has played with Salsa Celtica and The Cauld Blast Orchestra among others. Set design is by designer Miranda Melville who has worked in dance, theatre, opera and film while lighting design is by Jeanine Byrne, who has worked extensively  across Scotland.

Watch the trailer for And Now...

plan b 'And now...'. Photo: Noel Shelley

Tell us about the process of making the work?

Early discussions between Jim Sutherland and Miranda Melville focused on the nature of the referendum debate and the techniques used by both sides.  Themes emerged regarding people and power, sometimes powerlessness, loss, fear, hope and manipulation.

This led to examining whether the nation was cursed like J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, stuck in a Neverland with no desire to ever grow up and the collaborators thought of building a Wendy house. This then prompted explorations of the notion of scale and perspective, and when it came down to set design the Wendy house became an enormous chair that either dominates proceedings or alternatively acts a shelter for small people. What we wanted to convey was that in the referendum campaign ordinary people could argue from different standpoints, but still listen respectfully to another point of view.

While Frank worked with the dancers at The Shed in Evanton, Jim composed in Edinburgh, and many video transfers bounced across the nation, trusting that two completely different processes could complement one another when they were paired.  The choreographic process was a mixture of directed phrases, all emanating from a very short core phrase. The dancers remained positive throughout as Frank changed sections, turned it upside down and waited for the dust to settle. Meanwhile, Miranda was re-discovering her love for Joan Eardley’s paintings - both the Glasgow street urchins and the Catterline landscapes - as inspiration, and working with production manager Niall Black manager, the set began to take shape.

Finally we brought on board Jeanine Byrne as lighting designer, assisted by Paul Froy, and Ritchie Young who worked magic on the sound design and before we knew it the piece was opening at Ardross Hall which was bursting at the seams in the worst storm of the winter!

To whom might the work appeal?

The piece will appeal to people who had an interest in the recent Scottish referendum as well as those who are curious and responsive to dance, collaborative theatre and community. The specially commissioned score and live, jazz-infused saxophone will also attract audiences who enjoy and appreciate music while the set and text should intrigue those with an interest in design, visual art and the spoken word.  Past plan B audiences who have enjoyed our previous work, most recently The Shoogle Project and More Sky Than We Need, will also enjoy the piece.

plan B - The Shoogle Project Trailer from plan B on Vimeo.

When and where can we see it?

And Now… is already half way through the tour but you still have the opportunity to see performances at the following venues:

What’s next for Plan B? 

The company will start exploring ideas for a new production in the next few months.  With a working title of ‘Yardie’ - the piece will explore identity with an international perspective, considering the implications of a nation which intends to looks outward but doesn’t continue to so on the outside; and whether immigration and emigration are the same thing.

Find out more about plan B online or on their website,  Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Image credits: Noel Shelley

plan B is one of Creative Scotland's 118 Regularly Funded Organisations for 2015-18.

This article was published on 26 Feb 2016