Friday, 1 July 2016

POP-UP Dramaturgy: Janis Claxton @ Edfringe 2016

POP-UP Duets (fragments of love) 
part of the 2016 Made in Scotland Showcase
National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, EH1 1JF (venue 179)
Aug 4, 5 (previews)
Aug 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 |  15.30hrs (16.20hrs) | FREE - non ticketed

Award-winning choreographer, Janis Claxton, draws on her signature trademark of bringing high quality dance to public spaces in her latest work POP-UP Duets (fragments of love)

In partnership with National Museums Scotland and based around the theme of love, POP-UP Duets will be performed at the National Museum of Scotland in August as part of this year’s Made in Scotland showcase.

For a series of short, contemporary dance duets, Claxton has joined forces with the award-winning composer, Pippa Murphy and four world-class dancers - James Southward, Christina Liddell, Carlos J Martinez and Crystal Zillwood. The team also includes Clive Andrews (dramaturg) and Matthias Strahm (costume designer).

POP-UP Duets explore the interface of everyday gesture and action and detailed intricate partner dancing. Each duet will last five minutes and will ‘pop up’ throughout the Museum in various spaces. 

Renowned for bringing dance to public spaces and new audiences with a particular interest in the ‘accidental audience’, Claxton has created works for zoos (Enclosure 44 Humans), parks and museums and galleries (Chaos & Contingency). 

Credit: Roy Campbell-Moore

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I am interested in bringing dance dance to public places for unsuspecting audiences. I like to surprise audiences by bringing beautiful and high quality dance to them that is surrounded in love as we all need love in the world and in our lives and I wanted to do that through dance. 

I also wanted to find ways of creating really interesting partnering duets with material that evokes meaning and emotion rather than a series of lifts & tricks. 

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

I gathered the team through long term collaborators. I brought in Clive Andrews as dramaturg as I knew the dance piece needed some added acting skills and dramaturgy. I have worked with the composer Pippa Murphy on several occasions since 2006 and most recently on Scottish Opera's Anamchara for the 2014 Commonwealth Games where we made a love duet. 

One dancer from that project James Southward has worked with me since 2013 and the others have taken my classes and workshops and we share a mutual interest in each others work. I need to work with dancers who excite and interest me. The designer Matthias Strahm designed the costumes from Chaos & Contingency. I have a really awesome team. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

I don’t feel I ever became ‘interested’ in making performance but I was just born a dancing thing! I really believe that performance is about sharing and as far back as I can remember I started to share my dance - as a performer and as a teacher. 

Before the age of 3 I would beg to join my older sister's ballet class and on my 3rd birthday  I was finally allowed to start. I immediately ran to the front of the class and started leading it! I starred my own small dance school at the age of 14 with 30 students each weekend. I choreographed from a very early age and the only reason I wasn’t expelled from high school was because they needed me to choreograph the gymnasts routines and the school musicals! 

Which I did - to Patti Smith & Laurie Anderson confusing everyone. But the core of my dance, including choreography and performance is my teaching. That has always been my starting place for sharing the joy of it all. I always wanted others to experience the power and healing that I felt with dance. I spent many years teaching tens of thousands of folk in many countries. And I think this is what lead me to bring dance to public spaces and large audiences. 

I learned through my work with the Zoo (Enclosure Humans) and Chaos & Contingency that there is a very large audience of contemporary dance lovers who just don’t know it yet. They will likely never pay to go a theatre but they do love to experience dance as audience.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?

I have lots of different ways of making performance but with POP-UP Duets, I am working with some new processes of creating partner material between two dancers. Every duet will be totally unique and depends on the material and specific energy between the two dancers.  

The dramaturg's role becomes important to support the development and enhancement of the unique energy and ‘story' that each couple creates. For this work I am working more closely with a dramaturg than in the past and together we are finding ways to support the dancers development of emotional connections throughout the works. Loads of fun and challenges all round!

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope the audience will experience a sense of love - any aspect of it. I hope they have a visceral response to the work and enjoy the beauty, power and flow of the material and music. Pippa Murphy is composing the music alongside the creation of the duets. The dance and music are intricately entwined and this makes for a very strong and moving interdependancy between the visual & auditory realms. Some audience members  may be surprised at what we are doing in public. 

There are 4 dancers - two females and two males and we are creating work for every possible combination of the dancers. The audience will see duets between men and women as well as between two men and two women. The duets express love and romance and with the various couplings the work transcends the usual heteronormative narrative of typical dance duets. 

Also I want the audience to experience the three dimensionality of dance. We flatten dance in the proscenium arch format. I feel we watch enough flat screens in life these days and I want to bring back the three dimensions of the dance. For this work I am creating material that can be viewed from every direction. This is really exciting. I don’t know if I can ever create dance for one front again after this! 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I considered the idea that we will be dealing with a lot of audience who don't know about contemporary dance - what I call an unsuspecting audience who are not there specifically for our performance but stumble across it. The shortness of the duets addresses that. 

I have created works that will last for 5 minutes and giving audiences a chance to quickly receive the visual and aural information and an easy option to either say and watch more or move on in the museum. Making 9 short stand-alone duets is harder for me than I originally thought it would be - trying to make compact pieces that will keep the dynamics and the drama going. 

Dance is a visual art so having performances at a venue such as the National Museum of Scotland is good as we will attract people who are interested in looking at visual pieces of work. I want to open up people to the moving visual art of dance. 

By doing work in unusual spaces, sometimes our audiences don't realise that they are watching a performance until it is nearly half way through and often without realising they become part of the performance. The juxtaposition of the performance next to e.g someone reading a book is of value to the work and to audiences.

Another strategy is the use of gestural language - not in a making gesture dance way but everyday interactions that evolve into full blown choreographed partnering that still holds the intimacy and connection of the ‘normal’ interaction of a couple. I feel that audiences relate to what they can do, what is normal and I am working with taking this ‘normal’ beyond the everyday into gorgeous dancing and drawing the audiences into that experience. 

I sometimes feel dance alienates audiences with tricks and material that seems impossible and unachievable. My strategy is to draw audiences in and delight them. 

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
I see my work very much as contemporary dance but also site-based performance.

Janis Claxton (UK/AUS) is a Choreographer, Movement Director, Teacher and Producer based in Edinburgh where she is Artistic Director of the award-winning contemporary dance company - Janis Claxton Dance. Constantly winning plaudits on the basis of quality work, Claxton has been described by critics as “someone to look out for on the dance circuit” (Dance Europe) and “an intelligent dance maker she is” (The Scotsman). 

The company creates choreographed  works for touring in small to mid-scale venues and site-specific performances for unique spaces. She is currently Choreographer-in-Residence with Creative Edinburgh. 

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