By Mark Brown
Antigone, Interrupted is the first choreography to be created for Scottish Dance Theatre by the company’s new artistic director, Catalan dance maker Joan Clevillé. Looking, with distress, at what was happening to the bodies of those who were registering their political protest – not only in his native Catalonia, but in other parts of the world, such as Hong Kong and Chile – Clevillé alighted upon the character of Antigone, the self-sacrificial heroine who defies an unjust ruler in Sophocles’s Greek tragedy.
The outcome of his contemplation is this solo work for the extraordinary French dancer Solène Weinachter. The performer begins the hour-long show seated, beside a member of the audience. Her initial character, who is informal and conversational, is, seemingly, herself. She speaks of seeing a school production of Antigone as a child, and of her family.
Indeed, when she breaks into the performance space, Weinachter speaks a lot. It fashionable in contemporary dance theatre to have performers talk, and Clevillé gives his dancer numerous oratorical tasks, as narrator and all of the key figures in Sophocles’s drama (from King Creon to the Chorus and, of course, Antigone herself).
Often, in such works, a problem arises from dancers’ simple lack of a facility for language. There is no such difficulty here. In her strongly French-accented speech, Weinachter is, by turns, powerfully expressive, charming and humorous.
The issue lies not in the dancer’s linguistic expression, but in the uncomfortable, overloaded construction of Clevillé’s work. Some simple, clear narration of the essentials of the story would have sufficed. But as Weinachter shifts from the bereft prince Haemon to a modern-day observer of “black bodies” and “queer bodies” broken in protest, one yearns for a more precise concentration upon the central character of Antigone.
This is all the more frustrating because, in the too few moments when she expresses the heroine’s anguish in movement rather than words, the dancer is absolutely compelling. Contorted, bent out of human shape by Creon’s refusal – on pain of death – of burial rights for Antigone’s brother Polynices, her dancing is simultaneously painful and beautiful.
Despite the overcooked narrative structure, Clevillé has kept things admirably simple in other aspects of the production. Weinachter’s costume – modern and monochrome – is perfectly suited to a piece that seeks to transport an Attic tragedy into the present day.
The use of light and shadow (by lighting designer Emma Jones) is stark and dramatic. The soundscape (by Luke Sutherland) is ingenious and atmospheric, not least in its use of the recorded human voice, even if the amplified sound effects applied to the Chorus are somewhat incongruous.
This occasionally transfixing production (which is touring Scotland, London and Leeds) feels like a missed opportunity. Less really would have been more.
Touring until May 30: scottishdancetheatre.com
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on February 15, 2020
© Mark Brown