After a month in the zoo, Janis Claxton Dance are back with a theatrical triple bill. By KELLY APTER
IT'S NOT UNUSUAL FOR A CHOREographer to create work behind closed doors, but Janis Claxton has gone one step further and barricaded her company in. When I arrive at their rehearsal space in Edinburgh's New Town, the door is wedged shut with a thick plank of wood. Having foolishly left home without my battering ram, I use the modern-day equivalent – a mobile phone – and one of Claxton's dancers soon appears at the door, smiling.
It turns out that temperature, rather than temperament, has caused the lock-in. St Stephen's Church may be beautiful, atmospheric and capacious, but as far as dancers' muscles are concerned, the drafts of cold air are deadly. Nothing a few layers of warm clothing and a well-placed piece of timber can't handle though. In reality, Claxton couldn't be more open. The Australian choreographer and dancer talks freely about her work, before inviting me to watch a segment from the company's upcoming Falling Light tour.
Which should come as no surprise, given that Claxton spent two weeks in August laying herself bare to thousands of spectators. Arguably one of the most innovative and thought-provoking shows at this year's Edinburgh Fringe, Enclosure 44: Humans became an international news story when Claxton and four other dancers took up residence at Edinburgh Zoo. For 11 days they occupied an animal enclosure, joined by two "keepers" at "feeding time" and for the daily Human Animal Talk. A mix of choreographed sequences, improvised movement and ordinary human behaviour, Enclosure 44 was as fascinating for them as it was for us.
"It was an extraordinary experience," says Claxton. "But also very difficult and challenging. We had a really intimate connection with the audience – eye contact, pressing hands up against the glass, babies kissing us through the window. It was great to watch thousands of people every day be excited by us, or annoyed by us, so many different reactions." Plans are afoot to take the site-specific piece on a world tour of zoos, with the full support of Edinburgh Zoo, who were thrilled by the amount of coverage Claxton brought them this summer.
For the moment, however, Claxton is busy preparing for her company's Scottish theatrical debut. Formed in Bristol in 2003, the Janis Claxton Dance Company presented work across south-west England, until Claxton relocated to Scotland two years later. Since then she's been building up contacts, teaching, applying for funding and re-building her company. Armed with six dancers, a triple-bill of contemporary dance and the Edinburgh Quartet, Claxton is set for a six-date tour of Scotland and Wales. Describing her style as "very lyrical, very musical and softer than a lot of what's around", Claxton and her company are set to be a valuable addition to the dance scene.
The Falling Light tour has a line-up that appeals as much musically as it does choreographically. Created by Claxton in 2004, Rinne is set to an original composition by Australian new music ensemble, Waratah – led by the country's finest jazz saxophonist, Sandy Evans. "Rinne is the Japanese word for reincarnation," explains Claxton. "Because the core theme of the music keeps coming back. The piece is also based on the humming bird, which is the only bird that can fly upwards, downwards, forwards, backwards, sideways and hover. So it's a very light and uplifting dance – although incredibly difficult for the dancers to do because it's so fast."
Rinne is accompanied by two brand-new works, both of which will benefit from live music performed by the Edinburgh Quartet. Set to Bach's Partita No 2, Torque stems from earlier research Claxton did at Edinburgh Zoo, observing the animals' gestures, play, interaction and use of space, and then exploring how that relates to us as humans. Most exciting of all for music fans, Songs are Sung uses an emotional new work by popular Polish composer, Henryk Grecki. Commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, Grecki created the work in 1995, then put it in a drawer for ten years. The piece was finally released in 2007, which was when Claxton became absorbed by it.
"It's full of grief and similar in tone to his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs," says Claxton. "It's never been performed in Scotland, so the Edinburgh Quartet is very excited about playing it. What I like about it, is it has this element of real melancholy and grief, but with the ecstasy of revelation. It's ecstatic agony." Watching the all-female company rehearse, it's clear Claxton has tried to embody the achingly beautiful strings with her choreography. Arms float softly as women lift each other in tender displays of support, and you can't help but think that Grecki would approve.
"It's been a huge responsibility to honour what I feel the music is about," admits Claxton. "To go deep into both the emotional and rhythmic structure of the composition. But the dancers and I have studied the score closely, and I've worked with the Edinburgh Quartet to analyse it. The music is really rhythmically precise, so we're doing big, full-bodied luscious dancing."
&149 Janis Claxton Dance Company perform Falling Light at the Traverse, Edinburgh, 17 and 18 October; Citymoves, Aberdeen, 25 October; Byre Theatre, St Andrews, 31 October; Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, 6 November; Platform, Glasgow, 12 November. www.janisclaxton.com