If you’re fresh off the train/plane/automobile and eager to fit at least one “quintessentially Fringe” production into your schedule, look no further than Joan Clevillé Dance’s The North. For a rough idea of just how fringey this piece gets, here is a non-exhaustive list of items that feature in the hour of combined dance, drama and physical theatre: gold trousers, reindeer antlers, a self-constructing tent, toy cars, an unreliable (possibly magical) miniature radio, and a tiny Christmas tree.
“Rather than describing a realistic environment,” writer, director and choreographer Clevillé explains, “I was interested in evoking a human experience, a sense of disorientation, of being humbled by an environment that is stronger than us and that invites us to let go in order to survive.”
Dancers Eve Ganneau and Solène Wienachte – who execute Clevillé’s choreography with precision and mischief in equal parts (and in matching Nordic jumpers) – kick off proceedings by dragging a heavy white plastic sack into the middle of the room. Inside this bag is third dancer John Kendall, who also acts as the audience’s gateway from normality to surrealism, asking reasonable questions like “where is here?”, “how did I get here?”, and “what is this North of?” to no avail. He has wound up in an icy wasteland with no memory of his life until that point, nor any idea of how he might escape back to the South. Just when there’s a glimmer of insight into John’s predicament, the Ganneau and Wienachter’s tongues twist themselves into incoherent, animalistic gibberish, with an astonishing, oft-frightening level of dedication.
“The land of ancient gods, wild animals and strange creatures […] of the Terrible and the Sublime”, Clevillé’s crisp, shiny white landscape is a far cry from the North of England. Drawing on a frosty wealth of reference materials for inspiration, this setting takes cues from, among many other things, the Coen Brothers’ Fargo (1996), Joanne Harris’s The Gospel of Loki (2014), and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s take on The Revenant (2015). Against this white landscape that simultaneously contains everything and nothing, The North dares its audience to make meaning out such of an unknown quantity.
A later, quasi-campfire scene in snowy darkness tantalisingly gestures to the most likely explanation of John’s predicament. Ganneau and Wienachter provide an eerie recital of “Lord Franklin’s Lament”, a ballad about an Arctic expedition gone horribly and mysteriously awry:
“The fate of Franklin no man may know
The fate of Franklin no tongue may tell…”
Coupled with a toy car eventually crashing on its back after a long and winding journey around John’s limbs, an unexplained ambulance siren, and a CPR push on his chest, John’s arrival in purgatory after a car crash on black ice as the most likely explanation — not that it ultimately matters. As in every postmodern production specialising in abstraction and subterfuge, it is not the destination (or the origin) that wields the aesthetic power, but the surprising, madcap journey in between.
The North was shown at Dance Base as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2017. Joan Clevillé Dance are also be presenting Plan B for Utopia at Pleasance Courtyard until the 27th of August. For more information and tickets see here.
 Programme for The North. Dance Base Festival Team 2017.