The tragic heroine Antigone offers dance artists powerful possibilities when it comes to relating to the crises of the modern world, as choreographer Joan Clevillé tells Mark Brown

As a Catalan, Scottish Dance Theatre’s artistic director Joan Clevillé knows a thing or two about repression by the state. Since the 2017 Catalan independence referendum, which the Spanish government refused to accept, and, even, tried to prevent physically, the dancer and choreographer has watched events in his homeland with disbelief and horror.

The police of the Spanish state have attacked Catalans at polling stations and on the many subsequent protests: who can forget the images of heavily-equipped, Robocop-style officers brutalising elderly women in Barcelona as they attempted to vote? Madrid courts have given independence leaders lengthy prison sentences: former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont continues to live in exile in Belgium, as he faces immediate arrest should he set foot on the territory of the Spanish state.

“I was trying to process that experience, which was quite traumatic”, says Clevillé. “I grew up in Spain. It was hard to process what sort of democracy we are living in when we are seeing the state turning violent and repressing people.”

The choreographer has lived in Scotland for some 10 years, first coming here as a dancer for Scottish Dance Theatre (SDT), then forming his own company Joan Clevillé Dance, and, finally, being appointed artistic director of SDT last year. Born and raised in Barcelona, he moved to Madrid at the age of 21, and spent an important period of his youth in the Spanish capital; an experience that renders the current crisis within the Spanish state all the more painful.

Clevillé has been contemplating events in Catalonia, and wider questions of resistance that are raised constantly in our politically turbulent world. “I wanted to understand better what makes people disobey and break the law”, he explains.

“I was trying to understand more about civil disobedience.” This took him, he says, to the story of Antigone, as told by the Ancient Greek playwright Sophocles.

In the play, following the Theban civil war, in which the warring brothers Eteocles and Polynices (leaders of the rival armies) both die in battle, King Creon decrees that the body of the rebel prince Polynices will lie unsanctified and unburied. Antigone, sister of the dead brothers, defies Creon and buries her brother (a crime which leads to her being sentenced to death and, ultimately, to her suicide).

The drama continues, more than 2,400 years after it was written, to raise fundamental questions about the difference between law and justice, and about the nature of resistance to injustice. It is the inspiration for Clevillé’s latest choreography, his first for SDT, a solo work entitled Antigone, Interrupted, which will be performed (in places as diverse as Perth, Edinburgh, London, Lochgilphead and Banchory) by French dancer Solène Weinachter.

Clevillé was attracted to the Antigone story not only for its powerful themes, but also because, as a stark and iconic drama, it also offers a choreographer great physical and visual possibilities. “These Ancient Greek tragedies have primordial forces and impulses within them.

“They really give you a great starting point for physical exploration. There is a raw power driving Antigone. She is a teenager, a very young woman, and she has an inner drive that translates really well into physical expression.”

The director had no doubt that he wanted the piece to be performed by Weinachter. He first met her when he arrived at SDT, where she was also a dancer, and they have collaborated since.

“I really wanted to create a work with and for Solène”, he says. “She’s such an extraordinary performer. I just found it unbelievable that she hadn’t had a solo work before now.”

Clevillé has been working with Weinachter, not only on the choreography, but also on the implications of the Antigone story for our world today. In doing so, they have also considered possible alternative models of resistance. “The reason the word ‘Interrupted’ comes into the title is that we are asking if there is a way to redirect the impulse to radical action and disobedience towards something that doesn’t end in death.”

In their exploration of methods of resistance, the choreographer and the dancer have considered other, real and more modern figures. In particular, the great African-American civil rights activist Rosa Parks and the current leader of the movement against climate change Greta Thunberg.

The character of Antigone is a lone, aristocratic rebel. By contrast, Parks was, and Thunberg is, connected with a wider movement of people.

Nevertheless, Parks’s stance began with her sitting, alone, in the “whites only” section of a bus. Thunberg’s campaign started, famously, with her sitting outside the Swedish parliament, on her own, with a hand-painted sign declaring her “school strike for climate”.

This type of individual commitment is a gift to an artist seeking to make a solo dance piece, Clevillé explains. “I’m interested, as a choreographer, in the potential of a single body, of an ordinary person, to change the course of history.”

Antigone, Interrupted tours February 14 to May 30. For tour dates, visit: