Jonathan Burrows
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Cheap Lecture and The Cow Piece
www.theartsdesk.com, 14th October 2010
It’s hard to believe that Burrows was once a major Royal Ballet artist, on the character side, because his choreography so rapidly abandoned the conventions of ballet (actually I don’t remember his works having much about ballet except a whiff of its fluidity in certain windblown whirls and lifts). It travelled for a while towards the William Forsythe school of almost scientifically fascinating movement, broken up and examined in masterpieces like Our and The Stop Quartet, before stopping - and we were left Burrows-less for a long, worrying while. Then it returned 10 years ago, wholly unpredictably, in an odd duet with a Dutchman in which Burrows started talking. After that, there was no stopping him.

He found a new co-worker, the composer Matteo Fargion, and they made three startling and hilarious duets, examining rhythm from all sorts of angles, applying speech like an abstract percussive instrument to stumbling little dances, patting, whistling, yelping, seriously eccentric amusements. And they are back this week for three precious days, with an hour’s entertainment that continues the trilogy’s ideas in the funniest, richest, most life-enhancing evening I’ve had at anything associated with the 'dance' label this year (probably since their last one).

Part one, Cheap Lecture (pictured right, by Herman Sorgeloos), is a cheeky tribute to John Cage and the happenings that bust open ideas about dance in American theatre in the early 1950s. It is a delightfully crazed dual lecture, playing off one character against the other (lugubrious clown Fargion, perky professorial Burrows), just as surely as it plays the natural rhythms that give sentences meaning off against insistently different and sometimes warring rhythms. This is not, as they admit, a new idea. One of their lines is: 'We don’t know what we’re doing, but we’re doing it - (shrug) - everything is stolen anyway.'


They make their thefts clear in their script, no less funny for that. The lines jibe at the con-trick that performers play against their audience by feeding the audience’s willingness to believe in them (no matter how vacant the performers are feeling). Yet when the lines are fractured by 'wrong' rhythms (rather like Shakespeare’s Mechanicals in 'Pyramus and Thisbe' in A Midsummer Night’s Dream), words become mad lost creatures looking to join up with others and acquire a meaning in the gap. This sounds too serious. but it’s the serene intellectual curiosity underlying even the cheapest gags that makes this so enjoyable a Cageian homage.

One has known about the imminent cows all along, as there are 12 little plastic Friesians lined cutely up on the tables behind the pair in the first part; but the uproarious use of them in The Cow Piece is an explosively funny surprise. Like competing costermongers, Burrows and Fargion demonstrate their toy cows, creating tight little suspense dramas about their fates - some of them gruesome - snatching up musical instruments, a ukulele, a harmonica, a modest little squeezebox, an accordion, a piano, and dragging poor Schubert in there somehow.

Fargion lards it lavishly with Italian capriciousness, strumming Neapolitan ditties, blowing a football ref's whistle and pointing accusingly between two guilty plastic cows, 'Wasn’t me', 'Wasn’t me', or crying 'Muoio! Muoio!' ('I'm dying') like Scarpia in Tosca while Burrows cuts a caper. Burrows, who’s a brilliant music-hall stooge, counters with a mock-Victorian song about a baby that meets an unfortunate end. How do they notate such complex interlockings of gesture, sound, word, props and movement, allying logic ad absurdam with subconscious association-games? How long does it take them to create this diabolical puzzle? Never mind - just please go and see this tonight or tomorrow. It could be years before they’re back.

Ismene Brown

Related Items
Articles: Article by Lieve Dierckx on Cheap Lecture
Interviews: Interview on voice, language and body, with Ixiar Rozas, Interview with Milka Djordjevich for Critical Correspondence, www.movementresearch.org, New York, 2011
Reviews: Cheap Lecture and The Cow Piece, Cheap Lecture, Cheap Lecture and The Cow Piece, Cheap Lecture and The Cow Piece, Cheap Lecture and The Cow Piece, A Choreographer's Handbook
Photos: Cheap Lecture Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion
Scores: Cheap Lecture

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