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Joan Cleville on touring The North, Plan B for Utopia and developing collaborative, accessible work

Dundee-based dance theatre company Joan Clevillé Dance have a busy year ahead.

In 2019, The North begins its second UK tour. This work follows the story of John, a young man who finds himself lost in the harsh yet delicate wilderness of the North with only himself and two eccentric Northerners for company.

Without any memory of who he is or where he comes from, John searches for meaning in an increasingly unpredictable environment where being lost is the norm and letting go the only way to survive.

It features original music composed by Luke Sutherland (former collaborator of Mogwai) and a striking lighting design by Emma Jones (Scottish Dance Theatre), alongside performances from Solène Weinachter (Scottish Dance Theatre, Lost Dog), Eve Ganneau (Scottish Dance Theatre, Andersson Ensemble) and John Kendall (Ballet LORENT).

I have become fascinated with the Scottish landscape, the epic weather, the light, the open spaces, the silence… They all made their way into the work- Joan Cleville

The tour will also feature English dates for the company’s inaugural work, Plan B for Utopia, which has now been presented in more than 75 performances across the UK, Europe and Argentina.

The work, featuring charismatic performers Solène Weinachter and John Kendall, explores the role of creativity and imagination as a catalyst for change in our personal and collective lives.

We spoke to Joan Cleville about the works, and what audiences can expect.

This will be the second UK tour for The North. Tell us about the work - how did audiences react to it on its debut, and what are you hoping to achieve this time round?

People have very personal reactions to The North.

First of all, everyone carries their own, very intimate idea of what the north is and what it means. But the performance also talks about uncertainty and how we become comfortable with it (or not!).

I think this really touches people, as we are living through very unstable times on many different levels.

What role does the nature of Scotland play in this piece?

I was born in Barcelona but I have lived in Scotland for ten years now. I have become fascinated with the Scottish landscape, the epic weather, the light, the open spaces, the silence…

They all made their way into the work, not in a recognisable way but as a lived experience: the experience of an environment that is unpredictable and stronger than us, a wilderness revealing its beauty and our vulnerability.

There’s a lot of creative collaboration in The North, from lighting design to original music. What was the process for developing it with other creatives?

For me it was important to embed collaboration from the very start of the process to create a sense of place. There was a lot of play and trial of ideas during the process. Designer Matthias Strahm (Costume and Set), created a stripped back environment, which evoked a place in the imagination rather than reproducing a recognisable landscape.

This literally gave me and the dancers room to play with creative ideas, whilst playwright Ella Hickson helped us to distil the dramaturgic arc of the work. Composer Luke Sutherland (who grew up in Orkney) and lighting designer Emma Jones completely captured the magic character and epic nature of the North and managed to translate it onstage.

You’re also revisiting Plan B for Utopia, which has been performed extensively. What have you learned about the piece whilst touring it?

How important it is to reach to others (and otherness) to shape a common future.

Plan B for Utopia explores the role of creativity and imagination as a catalyst for change, but after more than 75 performances in seven countries, it is clear to me that what moves people is to see the dancers negotiating their dreams, ideas and desires onstage.

In a way, what they do to each other is more important than what they actually say.

How do you integrate accessibility into your touring?

As part of our 2019 tour, we will offer four performances with BSL Integration, as well as an audio described and a relaxed performance. For me, inclusive practice is not only a way to remove access barriers, but to discover new possibilities in my creative practice for all audiences. I look forward to continue to develop this aspect of my practice and embed accessibility even more deeply into our work.

The North Tour Details

Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh, Thu 28 Feb, 7.30pm; Perth Theatre, Fri 1 Mar, 6pm & Sat 2 Mar, 8pm; The Lowry, Salford, Mon 18 Mar, 8pm; Thimblemill Library, Smethwick, Black Country, Part of the Rural Touring Dance Initiative, Thu 21 Mar, 7.30pm; Husthwaite Village Hall, North Yorkshire, Part of the Rural Touring Dance Initiative, Sat 23 March, 7.30pm; Roadwater Village Hotel, Somerset, Part of the Rural Touring Dance Initiative, Fri 29 Mar, 7.30pm; Calstock Arts, Cornwall, Part of the Rural Touring Dance Initiative, Sat 30 Mar, 8pm; The Space, Dundee, 21 May, 1.30pm; Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling Thu 23 May, 7.30pm; Eden Court, Inverness Sun 26 May, 8pm; Platform, Easterhouse Tue 28 May, 7pm; Byre Theatre, St Andrews, Thu 30 May, 7.30pm.

Plan B for Utopia Tour Details

Arenan Bibliotekshuset, Karlstad, Sweden Fri 1 Feb; Riksteatern Showcase, Västeras, Sweden, Sat 2 Feb (industry only event); Edge Hill Arts Centre, Tue 5 Mar, 7.30pm; Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Thu 7 Mar, 7.45pm.

Find out more about all performances at joanclevilledance.com.

Image: The North, (Nicole Guarino)

This article was published on 26 Feb 2019