The New York Times Review: Those Touchy-Feely Folks on the Plazas? They’re in ‘Pop-Up Duets’

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The New York Times Review: Those Touchy-Feely Folks on the Plazas? They’re in ‘Pop-Up Duets’

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(Written by Brian Seibert 02/8 2018)

If, between now and Sunday, you’re crossing one of the plazas at Lincoln Center — exiting a matinee of “My Fair Lady,” say, or a Dance Theater of Harlem show — and you notice some especially bold public displays of affection, don’t be shocked. You’ve likely happened upon a performance of “Pop-Up Duets (fragments of love).”

This, too, is a show: an acclaimed, internationally touring work by Janis Claxton Dance from Edinburgh. It’s a sequence of five-minute love duets — six in this version for Lincoln Center Out of Doors, as many as nine in previous ones. The performances are timed around the starts and stops of other events at Lincoln Center, ensuring a crowd from which Ms. Claxton’s vivid dancers can emerge.

There are four of them, two men and two women. And the duets form a chain, with a dancer from the first duet joined by another for the second, and so on, cycling through all six possible pairings. The location of the duets shifts around the plaza, unannounced, but you can follow the dancers, or, more reliably, the music: purpose-composed songs by Pippa Murphy (some with Björk-like vocals by Kathryn Joseph) coming out of a portable speaker shaped like a suitcase.

Mr. Garcia (right) and Valerio Giovanni performing at Hearst Plaza at Lincoln Center.CreditRachel Papo for The New York Times

Each duet has a different mood, expressing a different relationship. One is playfully flirtatious, a man and a woman slipping in and out of each other’s grasp, tumbling head over heels. The next is darker, kinkier, the woman riding the man’s shoulders in triumphant dominance.

Despite these differences, though, there is a sameness. Looking like a cross between contact improvisation and ballroom dance, the duets share a similar vocabulary of dips, bends, lunges, low lifts and smooth exchanges of weight. The dances have been thoughtfully designed to be appreciated from any angle, but this also gives them a certain spiraling amorphousness. A rubber-band rhythm of tension and release grows monotonous, and the otherwise appealing naturalness of the dancers is marred by over-insistent eye contact between them, an effect like too much mascara.

The opposite-gender pairings tend to be equal and reciprocal, with the girl moving the guy around at least as much as the reverse. The same-sex duets are a bit more interesting, and although it’s hard to detect a meaningful direction to the sequence, Ms. Claxton does save her best for last: a meeting of the two men.

Here, for once, the two dancers don’t gaze into each other’s eye smilingly or smolderingly. Their faces speak of more complex emotions, of a relationship with a history only partially revealed. Likewise, the emotions in the choreography are more ambiguous and potent: can’t live with you, can’t live without you. “Can I hide in you?” Ms. Joseph sings, and one man is rolled on the ground between the other’s ankles before their positions immediately reverse. It’s an arresting scene to come upon, no matter which show you’re there to watch.

Pop-Up Duets
Through Sunday in Hearst Plaza and Josie Robertson Plaza, Lincoln Center;