(Written by Apollinaire Scherr 02/8 2018)
For POP-UP Duets (fragments of love), Edinburgh-based choreographer Janis Claxton has dreamt up a nifty new genre: a hybrid of flash fiction, pop song and site-specific performance suited to the city, where the spectacle of other people’s inner lives is regularly before us.
For the Manhattan iteration, you may have just left the matinee at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater blinking into the sun or been tossing penny wishes into the reflecting pool or have settled in the grove of trees with a gelato when you noticed two people on the pavement dancing out a romance.
The fine twenty-something dancers Valerio Di Giovanni, Albert Garcia, Amy Hollinshed and Joanne Pirrie paired up for six five-minute duets and as many flavours of love and lust. To Edinburgh composer and songwriter Pippa Murphy’s eclectic handful of instrumentals and sparely worded songs, the dancers conjured a shy encounter on a bench; a longtime couple’s intimate teasing; hardcore sexual preening; two strangers’ shock at their instant mutual attraction; and a couple’s orbit around the hole in one of their hearts. When the duets ended — either abruptly or with an intimation of “to be continued” — we followed whoever was carrying the old-fashioned suitcase with embedded speaker (a wonderful touch) to a new spot for another dance.
Claxton subscribes to a mode of partnering (known as contact improvisation) that depends less on brawn than on careful weight-sharing. The effect is too smooth for violent expressions of feeling, so POP-UP Duets has to resort to other kinds of drama. In the stark, angular male-male duet, Di Giovanni used a leg to float Garcia over his prone body like parents do their tots, but also locked his hands around his lover’s skinny ankles like shackles.
At once melancholy and chilling, this last duet was like a song you catch on the radio that you can’t get out of your head — because it has always been in your head. Now, though, you knew the words.