It starts with a hand—a fist, clenching, pulsing as a heartbeat. Sinews and muscles are taut, the arm outstretched. The hand gives, but can also take away. The hand strikes, punches, slaps, caresses, pulls. So, too, the hand crowns kings and queens. This is the jumping-off point for French dancer Solène Weinachter’s incredible new solo performance, “Antigone, Interrupted.” Human fragility is, Weinachter suggests, one side of the same coin, where strength is another. It is both meditation on Antigone, princess of Thebes and doomed daughter of Oedipus, from a feminist perspective; and also a personal journey between Weinachter and director and co-choreographer, Joan Clevillé. It’s the first time that Clevillé, Scottish Dance Theatre’s new artistic director, has created solo work for Weinachter, and their signature collaborative moves are all over the production, integrating text, dance and live vocals. It’s also a nod to where we are now, in an uncertain post-Brexit political landscape, where fear and divisive ideologies are on the rise.
Throughout, Weinachter references Sophocles’ myth in her life, first watching, as a confused seven year old, a family production; next, transfixed with a partner aged eighteen, and finally, the present day, at thirty-five, playing Antigone. She weaves intertextuality with testimony. Taking on the titular role, she is vulnerable, proud, and scoffing, eschewing the patriarchal misrule whereby her brother cannot receive a proper burial. She questions the warmongering, the lack of humanity, bears witness to dead bodies littering the streets. Just as suddenly, she breaks character, wryly musing on the muses, and their limitations.
In one brilliant sequence, she is but flesh falling from bones, simply by setting her elbow and back at an angle. She prowls like a pack of dogs, howling and untamed, a metaphor for wild misrule. Elsewhere, she shimmies to the famous theme from Zorba the Greek, manufacturing excitement with a slap to the chest as civilians are offed one by one with a casual, sadistic violence. Her body twists like a mighty oak tree, or falls away like a twig in a storm. Extensions are sleek, but pained and contorted, head thrown back. Occasionally, she all but skims the laps of the audience sitting in the round. Tiresias is played for laughs as prophetic ‘idiot savant’ trope, as opposed to fully fleshed -out character.
Male domination is rife in mythology, and with a slight shoulder hunch and narcissistic smirk, Weinachter is the newly appointed king Creon, the epitome of strutting machismo, whipping the crowd into a baying frenzy. The Chorus of Theban citizens are represented by a pitch shifter to make her voice sound otherly, unhinged as any blindly obedient crowd, hungry for blood. This is a brilliant device; indeed, the sound design by Luke Sutherland is immensely unsettling and effective: panting, vocal clicking, drones and frayed electronics. So too is Emma Jones’ lighting, where two doors are rendered like portals to another world, or purgatory itself.
Above all, what strikes in this inventive, moving and dense piece is the iconoclastic treatment of themes, as well as the shared sense of humour between Clevillé and Weinachter. Absurdism and parody are never far away. Dictators are merely shruggingly dismissed as “wankers,” which sounds charming in Weinachter’s lovely accent. A moment when she walks on her hands and makes her feet ‘applaud,’ invokes the playful physicality of circus clowns, albeit more in the European bouffon tradition of Gaulier and Lecoq. The dead-eyed, robotic dance to “Sister Suffragette” from Mary Poppins is very much played with a straight bat: she pulls a rictus grin while eyeing the audience—a performative nod perhaps, to hollow virtue signalling by the likes of Melania Trump? There is a fierce savagery to the wit here, an underlying menace, even when causing hilarity.
After all, it is only a short walk from gallows humour, to the gallows.