Joan Clevillé Dance is a small Dundee-based troupe headed by Spanish dancer/choreographer Joan Clevillé. The company is currently touring a dance theatre piece called Plan B for Utopia around the UK, with a recent stop at The Place in London. The hour-long work, conceived for the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, poses in its opening lines the following question: “Why is it easier to imagine the end of the world than the world changing for the better?”
It’s a thought-provoking query, particularly in light of the recent US election tumult, but it functions here as a starting point more than anything else; the piece does little to probe it, instead dancing around and beyond it (literally and figuratively) with tangential reflections on desire, pleasure, responsibility and morality.
These emerge through a series of playful sketches presented by two performers – Solène Weinachter and Clevillé himself. Some are dance-heavy, like the opening scene, in which the pair jive their way through a bubbly disco song, but more often than not they take the form of comedic skits: a raucous birthday celebration gone wrong, a lip-synced rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a candid discussion of personal fantasies, from the quotidian (“to watch Dundee United beat Real Madrid”) to the wacky (“to dance on graves!”). In the corner sits a cardboard box stuffed with props and accessories to complement their antics: towels, toys, hangers, balloons, even a cake with candles.
Clevillé and Weinachter strike a fluid, warm rapport, the latter emerging as a gifted comedian, witty and charismatic, with great timing and a penchant for impressions and sound effects. And Clevillé, the show’s choreographer, reveals a knack for devising broad-ranging, unexpectedly tender sequences that balance jolting modern dance with goofy touches, like exaggerated hip thrusts and two-steps.
In its weaker moments, the work is prone to superficial dictums like “happiness is a matter of perspective.” And it loses steam in the few instances it abandons wit in favour of reproach, like an early section in which Weinachter rattles off a list of laments about wealth inequality, environmental degradation and people who “bribe their conscience with a pack of Fairtrade bananas” – a clunky swipe at the Guardian set and their tendency towards slacktivism. Far more entertaining (and effective) are the subtle barbs that crop up in a skit about a man who’s granted magic wishes and immediately spends them on “delicious vegetarian meat” and unlimited Netflix.
Plan B’s picture of utopia remains hazy at the end, gestured at but never fully articulated in musings about personal integrity and nods to the notion of home. There’s no questioning its sincerity, though this is one instance where ambiguity translates as a reluctance to commit. Were its convictions as strong as its performers are engaging, the show could strengthen the stimulating dialogue it kicks off.