POP-UP Duets (fragments of love)

★★★★★  The Herald, Mary Brennan LET’S not mess about: everything about POP-UP Duets is inspired – including it being part of the Made in Scotland showcase that encourages public,venue programmers and producers to catch sight of what we generate across the arts. This site specific show, choreographed by Janis Claxton as a promenade through various locations in the National Museum, has the intriguing subtitle ‘fragments of love’ – a deliciously appropriate description of what takes place among the busy passers-by and the static exhibits. When Adrienne O’Leary and James Southwards emerge, hand-in-hand from a crowd, they could be any young couple on a first date – that they then drift into a dance of reciprocal tenderness, to the sound of music (composed by Pippa Murphy, sung by Kathryn Joseph) is the clue that alerts us to Claxton’s witty, heart-stirring intentions. Two other dancers – Christina Liddell and Carlos J Martinez – allow for a series of same-sex encounters that catch, with telling impact, at clandestine affairs that hide in full view… If the locations bring a certain grandeur to proceedings, the music – and most especially the dance – conjure up an intimate emotional landscape that ranges in style and subtext from flirtation, to avowed passion, to the turmoil of a love that can’t be expressed except in secret. The ninth and final duet, between Southward and Martinez, sizzles with a longing that drives through every limb, makes every touch electric. Earlier, we’ve watched the playful, radiantly happy flow of dance that connects Liddell and O’Leary before they part, and are drawn back into partnerships with the guys. See just one fragment – but do try to follow them all. This is, at every level, a richly inventive, wonderfully perceptive work, danced with a persuasive humanity to a score you want to own… And did I say? It’s free.

★★★★ The Observer, Luke Jennings Janis Claxton’s Pop-Up Duets (fragments of love) is all nuance and subtle interplay. Sited in the public spaces of the National Museum of Scotland, the work comprises nine danced encounters, performed in varying pairings by Christina Liddell, Carlos J Martinez, Adrienne O’Leary and James Southward, all excellent. The duets have an organic feel, with the dancers materialising from the audience and melting back into it. The theme is love, and Claxton gives us delicate moments of pursuit, of advance and retreat, glance and touch, circling and circumspection. The movement is seamless: flickering kinetics, spiralling exchanges, bold and sudden lifts. Pop-Up Duets is satisfying in a purely abstract sense; Claxton’s choreography deploys bodyweight with a sculptor’s precision, making absolute sense of the gallery venue. But this is also, in its free-form way, a narrative piece, and Claxton folds in much wit and tenderness. There’s a finely poised composition for the two women, all loaded pauses and sensuously supported back bends, but the final duet for the two men – wheeling, challenging, cleaving – is perhaps the most fully realised of the nine. Claxton’s is an underrated talent. Aged 51, she is a dance-maker at the top of her technical game, with a rare emotional intelligence. I’ve been watching her work for more than 15 years, and I’m not the only dance writer to deplore the way that she has consistently been passed over in favour of younger, less experienced men. This is a story with which female choreographers are wearily familiar. The issue of equal access to creative power roles in dance has long been fudged or ignored, and all too often remains unaddressed.

★★★★ The Times,Donald Hutera This is a series of nine short but sweet duets — romantic, playful and always well-crafted — for four fine and extremely lithe dancers. Each pairing is accompanied by Pippa Murphy’s recorded score of gently pulsating instrumentals and Kathryn Joseph’s somewhat Bjork-like vocals. Although free performances on the Fringe are rampant, there’s little or nothing in terms of no-cost dance for anyone on a limited budget. That’s not the only thing that makes this refreshingly unaffected performance by Janis Claxton special. Presented once a day in two large, open gallery spaces in the National Museum of Scotland, this is a series of nine short but sweet duets — romantic, playful and always well-crafted — for four fine and extremely lithe dancers. As the title suggests, Claxton’s work is designed to catch spectators unawares, which is not to say you shouldn’t head to the museum with the express intention of watching it. Not sure where to go? Ask the staff and listen for the music. Each pairing is accompanied by Pippa Murphy’s recorded score of gently pulsating instrumentals and Kathryn Joseph’s somewhat Bjork-like vocals. An initial, nice-and-easy pairing between Adrienne O’Leary and James Southward sets a tone for the rest. The appealing sense of discovery between the couple spilled over into Southward’s fun and slightly flirty pairing with Carlos J Martinez that immediately followed. At the performance I saw, the men played hide-and-seek amidst the audience, but in a way that was entirely natural rather than overly cute. Such naturalness is a hallmark of POP-UP Duets. Her cast is obviously highly trained, but nothing they do feels forced or intimidatingly technical. Claxton knows how to bring out their innately human qualities. Martinez’s subsequent partnering with Christina Liddell was tender and at times tentative, and physically both sharp and then soft. This kind of dynamic gradation is a prime feature of Claxton’s writing. There was a quietly breathtaking moment when Martinez suddenly slipped his legs round Liddell’s waist, so that she had to briefly bear his weight. The two women danced together too, mainly on or around one of the museum’s cushioned benches. What becomes increasingly apparent as the piece progresses is the ability of the dancers to maintain strong and even intimate connections while under potentially distracting public scrutiny.

 ★★★★ The Scotsman, Kelly Apter Choreographer Janis Claxton is no stranger to public spaces. Her previous works have been performed in an enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo and the same museum hall her POP-UP Duets now reside. Star rating: **** Venue: National Museum of Scotland (Venue 179) But when you “take contemporary dance to the masses” as Claxton puts it, you also take on a large responsibility. Namely to show those who have yet to discover the joys of live dance just what they’ve been missing. The fact that she achieves that so completely, is merely one of the many reasons POP-UP Duets is an undisputed dance highlight of the 2016 Fringe. So many factors come together here, to produce a series of beautiful but fleeting moments in time. Claxton herself has produced quite possibly the best choreography she’s ever created. Nine duets, each unique in its own way, exploring love and affection from a different angle. Playful yet understated, captivating yet subtle, the movement feels as natural as breathing on the dancers. The next delicious ingredient in the pot is the dancers. Claxton has pulled together four performers who blend into the crowd one minute, command our attention the next. In the hands of Christina Liddell, Carlos J Martinez, Adrienne O’Leary and James Southward, her choreography glides perfectly from one space to the next, prompting passers-by to stop in their tracks and observe. But as with many site-specific pieces, the call to watch is aural rather than visual, and here Claxton has really hit the jackpot. Composer Pippa Murphy assembled her own dream team of musicians to record her original score for the piece – including three songs sung by Scottish Album of the Year winner, Kathryn Joseph. Put all this together against the backdrop of the Museum of Scotland and, importantly, make it free to watch – and you’ve got something truly special