“It feels like a beautiful collaboration” - Solène Weinachter andJoan Clevillé on creating Antigone, Interrupted for Scottish Dance Theatre
She came from France, he was born and raised in Spain – but when Solène Weinachter and Joan Clevillé found each other in Dundee ten years ago, it was clear they both spoke the same language. As dancers with Scottish Dance Theatre, under the leadership of Janet Smith, the duo worked together with a synergy that carried across the footlights.
“We often gravitated towards each other,” recalls Clevillé. “Sometimes because we wanted to, sometimes by coincidence – and also choreographers tended to put us together.
“Then, when we left Scottish Dance Theatre, we worked together as freelancers, and when I started my own company it felt very natural to continue that relationship. I’ve always felt so inspired by Solène and the versatility she brings.”
Things have now come full circle, with Clevillé newly installed as artistic director of Scottish Dance Theatre and Weinachter back as guest dancer for Antigone, Interrupted, a one-woman re-working of Sophocles’ Greek tragedy.
Rehearsing in Dundee prior to the show’s Perth premiere, Weinachter feels much the same way as Clevillé about the impact their professional relationship has had on her career.
“Working with Joan at Scottish Dance Theatre started one of the best adventures of my life, both as friends and creative collaborators,” she says. “I think we complement each other – I’m a bit of chaos in his process and he brings me focus.
“It’s been a gift to work with each other for so long, and we’ve developed a whole vocabulary together where we both know exactly what the other one means.”
The road to Antigone has been a long one for Weinachter. She first saw the play in the Parisian suburbs aged seven, when her older sister played the title role in a school production. Written in 441 BC, the play is set in the aftermath of a civil war, where the new leader of Thebes (Creon) locks horns with his niece Antigone over where her rebellious dead brother is to be buried.
“I had no idea what I was watching but it stayed with me,” recalls Weinachter. “And when I saw another version of the play ten years later, some of the lines between Antigone and Creon once more punched me in the heart. Her sense of urgency had a strong impact on me.”
Now she’s taking on the role herself, in a one-hour show that fuses the original text with new dialogue written by Clevillé. The “Interrupted” in the title partly refers to Weinachter’s delivery, which is broken up by reflections on what’s just happened or descriptions of the location. “We only have one performer and 60 minutes,” explains Clevillé. “So we had to decide which are the key moments we need to see, and which are perhaps just as important but you don’t need to actually see them played out, we can just tell you about them.
“But I suppose the biggest thing we played around with is the figure of Creon the tyrant. At the start, both Solène and I felt a natural antipathy towards him, but the more you dig into the text the more you realise why this is a classic. It’s so rich, three dimensional and contradictory, you start to see the legitimacy of both positions.”
Weinachter also found diving inside Sophocles’ tale of personal freedom and civil disobedience a challenging but rewarding task.
“We were ruthless,” she says, “and that was a pretty liberating process. We used whatever in the text served our discourse and left out what didn’t – always being mindful to keep the essence of the play. And although the play is called Antigone, it could also be called Creon, because the show is centred on the journey of those two characters.
“So once our ideas were clear, that we wanted to talk about fate and agency, making decisions about the text was easy.”
There aren’t many performers who can carry a show all on their own, but anyone who has seen Weinachter on stage with Scottish Dance Theatre, with Clevillé’s own company or performing alongside Ben Duke of Lost Dog, knows what a special presence she has, both as a dancer and actor.
“At some point I realised that Solène had never done a solo work – and I thought how is that possible?” laughs Clevillé. “Because if anyone can carry an audience’s interest and attention for an hour, it’s her. So I felt I needed to jump in there before anyone else did.”
As for Weinachter, she’s less alone in this solo than we might think. “It’s a first for me, an amazing challenge and I’m grateful to Joan for giving me this opportunity,” she says. “But even though it’s a solo, in a way I don’t feel on my own. I can sense Joan with me so strongly, Emma Jones’ lighting design supports me really well and Luke Sutherland’s music is so intrinsic to the show, it’s like another performer in the room. Also, during the preview performance, the audience was very present all around me, so I feel very held.”
The dance world has had no shortage of choreographer/dancer partnerships, but Clevillé is quick to dispel any notion that Weinachter provides the inspiration, then sits back while he goes to work.
“I don’t like the idea of a muse because that feels like a kind of possession,” he says, “or the idea that I’m over here with my big choreographer hat on having brilliant ideas that Solène then enacts for me.
“No, for me it feels like a beautiful collaboration with a capital ‘C’ because so much of my practise has been shaped by Solène, by her playfulness and curiosity. She’s constantly challenging herself to learn new things – in between projects she’ll do a clowning course or an acting course, and that has really enriched me. When we started this project, there was so much common ground and such a deep level of trust, that the process was surprisingly easy – we were very in tune.” Kelly Apter
Antigone, Interrupted is at Perth Theatre, 14-15 February; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 20-22 February, then on tour around Scotland until 30 May, www.scottishdancetheatre.com