Australian choreographer Janis Claxton passed away this morning after a brief battle with lung cancer, which was diagnosed this spring. She was 53.
In addition to being a prolific and wide-ranging choreographer and producer, Claxton was outspoken about issues of gender inequality in dance. Though less well-known in the U.S., her company, Janis Claxton Dance, made history this summer as only the second Scottish company to ever be invited to perform at Jacob's Pillow. Much of her work focused on making dance less intimidating, and on finding an "accidental audience," such as in POP-UP Duets (fragments of love), the 2016 work her company brought to the Pillow this summer. In it, four dancers in numerous pairings emerge from public spaces to perform short duets, each presenting a different snapshot of a relationship.
I was fortunate enough to catch the work during Lincoln Center Out of Doors last month. The work is so beautifully, intelligently composed as to be intriguing for the dance aficionado, but bite-sized and approachable enough that random passersby were drawn in, pausing to stay still and watch for a time. It's hypnotic, enchanting and entertaining, and impossible not to be moved by. Circling the fountain to watch the various duets emerge around the plaza stands as my favorite performance experience I've had this summer.
Janis Claxton Dance is currently on tour with POP-UP Duets and will continue, as scheduled, with its next engagement in November.
My best running buddy was on my left. To my right, a total stranger with whom I'd suddenly become competitive. As the 15-person group headed into a two-minute push, the instructor got hyped, and the remix blasting Rihanna's "We Found Love" transitioned to "Smooth Criminal."