5 Questions to Janis Claxton, Choreographer, about POP-UP Duets’ world success and her approach to creating dance

Janis Claxton.<br />© Janis Claxton Dance. (Click image for larger version)
Janis Claxton.
© Janis Claxton Dance. (Click image for larger version)

Edinburgh based Janis Claxton Dance are half way through their latest tour of the critically acclaimed POP-UP Duets and currently performing at the renowned Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts, with further festival dates following in Sweden and Glasgow. Time for a word with the boss we thought…

Janis Claxton Dance in <I>POP-UP Duets</I>.<br />© Roy Campbell-Moore. (Click image for larger version)
Janis Claxton Dance in POP-UP Duets.
© Roy Campbell-Moore. (Click image for larger version)

What a hit POP-UP Duets has been – what’s it all about and where did the idea spring from?

I have a long-term interest in bringing high-quality dance to public spaces and new audiences. From my experience with creating several works for Public Spaces (Enclosure Humans, Chaos & Contingency and POP-UP Duets) I have learned that there is a huge audience of contemporary dance lovers but most of them do not yet know they are fans! When audiences are up close and personal and able to view dance in different ways and the dance is real and speaks to the humanity in us all, they seem to ‘get it’ and we have learned they love it. Dance & movement is the universal language – a language we all understand if given accessible ways to read and engage. I believe the format of audiences sitting in one place for an hour, or more, held to their seats and unable to move, is not ideal for many people as viewers. People engage in viewing dance in different ways and many people need to move around, scan the whole space, wiggle and fidget in order to receive information. In this way the POP-UP Duets allows people to receive the dance in a way that is perhaps more conducive to their own feedback system, kinesthetic learners can enjoy the movement while moving around and dipping in and out with their eyes as they please.

Also, the idea of viewing dance from different perspectives is important. With POP-UP Duets people can be up close personal, far away, sitting on the floor, even lying down and, in some venues, the audiences are able to watch the work from above. Dance is a three-dimensional art form; moving sculptures need to be enjoyed from all perspectives. We made the duets so that they work from every angle possible. Traditionally (Western) dance choreography is created for a flat screen stage. I believe circular and different ways of viewing dance are important for people’s souls.

Janis Claxton Dance in <I>POP-UP Duets</I>.<br />© Roy Campbell-Moore. (Click image for larger version)
Janis Claxton Dance in POP-UP Duets.
© Roy Campbell-Moore. (Click image for larger version)

You’re very big on using eyes in your work…

The use of the eyes is something that myself, the dancers and my dramaturge have invested a lot of time, research and practice in. It really is a key feature of the work. The eyes dance, the eyes are part of our dancing selves. In a lot of dance, they become either stuck with a small and pinpoint focus or glazed over and unresponsive. The eyes are a part of us, part of our fluid system of engagement with the world, our dance partner and our audience. We practice a lot of eye work and include the eyes in our daily warm-up of our whole dancing selves.

When you go into the studio to create, do you know what you are going to do – do you have nearly all the movement worked out? And do you ever go back and edit steps in old works?

Oh never! I work with the dancers to devise the material from specific processes that I teach them. Some of the movement comes from myself but especially with the duets work the material is really created through a complex partner improvisation process that we video and then choreograph.

Re editing – yes sometimes but I prefer to create new work!

Janis Claxton in the studio.© Janis Claxton Dance. (Click image for larger version)
Janis Claxton in the studio.
© Janis Claxton Dance. (Click image for larger version)

We don’t have so many female choreographers – why’s that?

HA HA HA! Because it is a patriarchal sexist son of a bitch world and it will never change until we insist on 50/50 representation across all choreographic platforms – ballet, contemporary, the works! EVERY single company on the planet needs to do this. Without hesitation, without doubt, without excuses.

The dance world is perhaps the worst of all industries as 80% of the people who work in dance are women but 80% of the top jobs (Artistic Directors and Choreographers) are held by men. So the statistics are off the scale in comparison to other industries. It is a JOKE. A total joke. And women in the industry are just as responsible for perpetuating this as men. I will stop now or my liver will explode!

Janis Claxton Dance in <I>POP-UP Duets</I>.<br />© Roy Campbell-Moore. (Click image for larger version)
Janis Claxton Dance in POP-UP Duets.
© Roy Campbell-Moore. (Click image for larger version)

Post POP-UP Duets world travels, what comes next and where?

We have plans for further touring but nothing is confirmed yet so I can’t say where too but it is looking exciting! Look out 2019/20 POP-UP Duets is spreading the love further. …

And finally, a bonus question: Tell us a joke…

The world is fair… women have equal representation…

Ah, ok… it is still not funny!

About the author

Bruce Marriott

Bruce Marriott is editor of DanceTabs. For non-dance stuff he can be found at

DanceTabs Contributors

Regular contributors…

Claudia Bauer | Foteini Christofilopoulou | Gay Morris | Graham Watts | Heather Desaulniers | Jann Parry | Josephine Leask | Karen Greenspan | Lynette Halewood | Marina Harss | Oksana Khadarina | Siobhan Murphy | Susanna Sloat | Valerie Lawson | Bruce Marriott (Ed)

The above list is composed of those whose work we feature regularly and have generally contributed in the last few months.

>> Complete list of DanceTabs Contributors and more info.

DanceTabs Tweets