Remembering choreographer Janis Claxton (1964 – 2018)
I was asked this week by Creative Scotland to write some reflections on Janis Claxton and her contribution to dance in Scotland. I wanted to share it here also in respect of an awesome woman who we were honoured to have as part of The Work Room community.
It was with a heavy-heart and much sadness that I learnt of Janis’ death on the morning of 7 September. As a choreographer, teacher, producer and collaborator Janis has been a formidable force in contemporary dance internationally for over 30 years – making Edinburgh her home since 2005. She truly made her mark on the dance community in Scotland, through her choreography, advocacy for the artform and huge generosity as a teacher.
Janis held such a deep knowledge and understanding about our art form – an embodied knowledge that she had dedicated her life to developing and sharing. I first met her when I was Head of Dance at Scottish Arts Council. Inevitably our relationship wasn’t always easy and as Janis was never one to mince her words, or hold back in on giving her views, we certainly had our run-ins. However – we bonded over our deep passion for dance and unstinting belief that there is a huge audience for contemporary dance - they may just not be aware of it yet.
Janis sought to introduce people to dance and over the past 10 years, audiences have been introduced to her beautifully crafted dance pieces in many of Scotland’s museums and galleries, at Edinburgh Zoo, in the streets of Glasgow’s Merchant City and in libraries throughout Fife. While Edinburgh has been home, Janis has worked across the globe driven by a zeal to share her work, curiosity about people as well as the practical financial drive to make a living as an independent artist. She has worked extensively in China, Taiwan, Australia and India. The comments that have flooded into her company’s social media pages since the announcement of her death, are testimony to the hundreds of dancers who she inspired throughout the world.
Throughout her short illness, her company’s work has continued to excite and move audiences. POP-UP Duets (Fragments of Love) has toured extensively over the past 5 months to prestigious international venues and festivals including Singapore International Arts Festival, Jacob’s Pillow (America’s most prestigious dance festival), the Lincoln Centre in New York and at the International Tanzmesse in Dusseldorf, as well as throughout Scotland. Speaking to Janis at the start of this year, she was beyond excited about the impressive gigs that had been secured for this work – finally her work was being given a platform and she was smashing through those infuriatingly tough glass ceilings.
It was most fitting that just a few weeks ago, Janis was awarded a Herald Archangel Award for her sustained contribution to the Edinburgh Festivals. Although she was unable to be there in person to accept the award, she used the platform to advocate for female choreographers and make an impassioned plea to company & festival directors to commit to 50/50 programming.
A few weeks ago, the critic Joyce McMillan published an article in the Scotsman, titled ‘Edinburgh Festival is infected by the age of rage’. Janis responded to this on twitter with the comment ‘Let’s invest ingest infest infect it with the age of love’ and, ever the publicist, a link to POP-Up Duets’ festival performances at the National Museum of Scotland. This seems to me, to the most perfect reflection on what art can bring to our tired and damaged world. Although we have lost Janis, her dance work will continue to bring love and light into people’s lives.
My heart goes out to Janis husband Clive, their son Marlin, her closest friends, her colleagues in Janis Claxton Dance and the dance community in Scotland and across the word who will miss her immensely.