by Donald Hutera
Image by Herman Sorgeloos
Both Sitting Duet is a wonderfully
intricate, precisely timed sharing of stage space by long-time collaborators
, choreographer, and Matteo Fargion, composer. Like the title says, it
is a (mostly) sedentary performance in which the pair occupy two chairs
close to the audience and each other. Each has a thin notebook at his
feet containing a ‘score’ of actions which, as extracts from a post-show
interview conducted at last May’s Nottdance Festival reveal, have a secret
Donald Hutera: How did this
piece come about?
Jonathan Burrows:When we decided
to work together on this piece we had no preconception of what we would
do. Because previously I had always been the boss, commissioning Matteo
to write music, we decided that this time we would work equally.We wanted
to find something that we could place between us that was neither too
much Matteo nor too much me, but which could be an arbiter of our process.We
looked at many different possibilites – text, films, music, concepts –
and found nothing.We decided to go into the studio anyway and start work.
That day Matteo arrived and said, ‘I think I’ve found the thing we need.
It’s so obvious that we didn’t even think of it.’ And he pulled out this
score that both he and I were obsessed with about seven or eight years
ago. The question was, what do we do with it? We decided to do something
in a way very dumb, which was to make a direct transcription – with the
same tempo, bar for bar, note for note – of what is actually a 70-minute
piece of music.We made perhaps eight minutes, or maybe four or five.We
looked at it on tape and were quite surprised, because whereas the world
of this music is a kind of hovering, rocking, quiet thing, we seemed to
be more jolly and folkdancey. That was what won us over. But we don’t
like to say what score we used.
JB: Because those people who know it would always be waiting for it, and those who don’t would feel excluded. It’s kind of irrelevant. It was a tool.
DH: So you had these eight minutes. How did the piece develop further?
Matteo Fargion: We just carried
on, working our way through the whole score.We decided we would do any
editing only after we’d reached the end of it.We did cheat, only in small
changes of tempo. That’s why the performance lasts about 45 minutes. It
DH: I noticed, glancing at your scores, directions for movement triggered by words like ‘lasso’, ‘twist’, fingers’, ‘shakedown’, ‘flick’ and ‘brush.’ What was it that determined which actions you do when?
JB: We had a few parameters for
ourselves. One was, we wouldn’t search hard for what was interesting.We’d
take the first thing that came. Secondly, the rhythm of the score itself
chose what worked and didn’t work.
DH: Tonight’s audience response
was very warm. What kind of response do you usually get?
JB: We hear you listening too,
which is why I like doing it with everyone sitting in the same room. We’re
DH: A German critic referred
to both Both Sitting Duet and Weak Dance Strong Questions [Umbrella 2001]
as ‘major small pieces’ and wrote about ‘the radicalism of omission. Another
says your work ‘is primarily an examination of the potential and the limitations
of dance.’ And from The Guardian: ‘If Einstein ever pondered on dance,
the dance in question would have looked something like the work of Jonathan
Burrows.’ Oh, there’s one more: ‘The spectacular thing about his work
is that he leaves out everything spactacular.’ How do you react to phrases
that couch what you do in high-flown terms?
JB: We’re going through a strange,
interesting period where theoreticians have become interested in dance.
I like it that somebody will sit and try and find a perspective other
than ‘This looked beautiful’ or ‘That didn’t look beautiful.’ At the same
time, it tends to place us in a position of either going against something
or making a statement. I don’t think that’s what I want to do. It’s not
against anything, and it’s not a statement towards something. It’s just
the thing that it is.
DH: There’s something you’ve
said, Matteo: ‘Counterpoint assumes a love between the parts.’ Where did
that come from?
MF: It was in one of our early
conversations about counterpoint, which interests us both.We were zooming
in on ‘Let’s do counterpoint’ and trying to define it in another way.
Jonathan was grilling me and I think I said, ‘Well, you have to assume
that the two parts are in love somehow.’
JB: If they loved it and were connected
enough with each other, I’d like that idea. And if they were willing to
put in the time, say, three months, on it.
JB: Not to smoke.
MF: I learned that it’s fun to
do, and it’s always scary and takes a lot of concentration.
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