Redefining the Repertory Company

The pandemic has given Scottish Dance Theatre the chance to think innovatively about their new position within the sector and to create positive change.

The importance of inclusivity and providing new ways to access dance has been a key focus for Joan Clevillé, the Artistic Director of the company so we spoke to dancer, Jessica Roberts- Smith to hear about the company’s new direction. She says, “This year has been an opportunity for us to reevaluate our role as a repertory company, I am seeing a shift in perspective. We want to be more accessible to communities and we want to reach out to a wider demographic.”

During this year, the company has created a strong online presence and are connecting with a wider international audience. They are thinking really carefully about the type of work they want to share. Will it connect with different demographics? Does it communicate in a clear and inclusive way? The company has taken this time to explore and to try out new prototypes, including an interactive, digital tour of Antigone Interrupted, where audiences can learn about the creative process and experience extracts from the original stage production. In December they are producing Advent in collaboration with Dundee Rep; a series of 24 staged performances shown each day on social media.

For the past 10 months, the company has not been touring due to the tight travel restrictions; however this has given them the opportunity to address their position within the city of Dundee and to think about the value of contemporary dance. “We can have an essential role in communities by going into areas across the city and reaching out to people who have never had the chance to experience a live performance before. We have a responsibility to let people in and I think the dance sector needs to pay more attention to this. It is about being more accessible in people’s lives.”

Engaging in the local area has become an integral part of Scottish Dance Theatre’s new identity. “We want to reach out to our dance network in Scotland and have used this time to collaborate with local creative artists for example costume designer Zephyr Liddell and choreographers Simone Keynyon and Roberta Jean.” They have recently connected with fine artist Matilda Williams- Kelly who has created an oil painting displayed in the window of Dundee Rep as part of the Black Lives Matter mural trail.

With theatres closed, many creative organisations are having to adapt in order to survive and this has led Scottish Dance Theatre to reevaluate its performance model. “We are sharing far more of the creative process whether this is online or on the streets. We have stopped working in a goal orientated way; it not just about the final product anymore. I believe there is value in what we do at any stage and this can have a positive effect on someone.” The traditional touring model at Scottish Dance Theatre involved three or four weeks creating a piece, having a premiere and then touring the work both regionally and internationally. Jessie adds, “I don’t think its necessarily a conducive way of working anymore. This year has reminded us that to make work that has integrity, you need time to explore and try out new ideas with the complete acceptance that you might get it wrong sometimes. But ultimately, we all learn and develop the most from making mistakes.”

Over the past two months, the company has been bringing outdoor performances into the city. Every Map Has A Scale is an improvisation and research-based project where the dancers have been visiting neighbourhoods and building relationships with different communities across Dundee. “We have started to think about how we could make a positive and creative impact in areas of Dundee. In some areas we are far more present than we ever have been before because we are there physically in village squares, in parks and on high streets. Kids would cycle around us and coaches passing by would stop so that they could take photos. We had one guy scoot through the middle of one of performances and shout ‘you alright guys?’ He wanted to take part and felt he had the agency to do that which was quite magical. It has been a special experience as there are lot of communities that are not so central and would never have had the opportunity to see a performance at the repertory theatre.”

Scottish Dance Theatre is collaborating with Dundee Repertory on a new project Present, which is about sharing Christmas within the community. This was in response to the fact that there are many individuals who are feeling isolated and are unable to access the inspiration and escapism that theatre can provide. Anybody could write in and put somebody forward whom they thought deserved an uplifting, surprise performance. Each piece is a personal creation specifically for the individual. “This experience has made us realise that local people really care about us and want us to help in whatever way we can. We had over 70 people in a week get in touch with us and say we would love to do something for this person. We are creating performances across the city whether this is in front of children’s windows, in the car park of a care home or in the playing field of a school.”

Going forward, when restrictions are eased, the company wants to create a more sustainable approach to how they tour. “If we travel somewhere, we want to be more conscious about how we spend our time there. Traditionally, you would perform and then leave. For us, it is important that we spend time within that community, providing workshops for local people and sharing our skills. We learn so much from the people we meet, and it broadens our own creativity.”

Dance is a universal form of connection and intimacy. It has always brought people together because of its ability to create a visceral experience. In a time when we are restricted from social interaction, perhaps we are missing the chance to dance with people? “I think this time has shown us how important dance can be. For hundreds of years, it has been part of our social culture. Moving together is an elementary form of communication, we all recognise it because we have felt it and during this time people are craving to experience a moment of joy, excitement and reflection.”

Jessica Roberts- Smith and Kieran Brown
Image taken by Genevieve Reeves
Johanna Wernmo
Luigi Nardone
Image taken by Genevieve Reeves
João Castro
Image taken by Genevieve Reeves

Scottish Dance Theatre