Jonathan Burrows
On scores - an extract from
A Choreographer’s Handbook by Jonathan Burrows
Published by Routledge, an imprint of the Taylor and Francis Group, 2010
Scores / Studios


A number of different approaches tend to be grouped under the word ‘score’. This can get quite confusing. Trying to understand the different possibilities may help you decide what you need to do, or not.


It seems to me there are two main kinds of approach to the idea of writing a score.

In the first kind what is written is a representation of the piece itself, a template which holds within it the detail, in linear time, of what you will eventually see or hear. A classical music score works in this way.

In the other kind of score, what is written or thought is a tool for information, image and inspiration, which acts as a source for what you will see, but whose shape may be very different from the final realisation.

These two approaches can mix.

Both can arrive at structure, and both can arrive at strong image, atmosphere and colour.

Both can be written before, during or after you make the piece.


A score is one way to get an overview of time and materials. It freezes time in a concrete form, allowing you to glimpse what can be hard to grasp perceptually in real-time experience.

It can provide a way to sense and adjust time, allowing you to see and shift the relation of materials over longer periods.

A score is a conscious way to distance you from the thing you're making or doing. It can mediate between the maker and the work, and also between the maker and the performer.

It can give you a more objective viewpoint.

This may or may not be useful.

A dance studio is a hard place to concentrate, especially if you’re working with other people who are waiting for you to decide what you want them to do. A score can help you find a way to do some of this work at home, in private, where you’ll have more time to think.


When a performer reads their score during the performance, it can help mediate between them and the audience. The score then represents, in a way, the piece itself, separate from the personality or desires of the performer. This can allow the performer to disappear at times, giving the audience space for a more direct and personal relation to the dance, music or text they’re seeing or hearing.

Reading a score also acts as a distraction for the performer, providing a focus away from their own self-consciousness and fear (see also ‘Distracting the self’).


Is it useful for you to work with a score, and if so, what do you want it to do for you?


Every choreographer who works with scores seems to have developed their own approach.

Your score may consist simply of writing down what you’re doing. This can help you remember the material, enough to make more without worrying about forgetting what you’ve already made. It makes it easier to move forwards towards new ideas, because your mind is not holding onto the old ones.

A score doesn’t have to be a complicated thing.

© Jonathan Burrows, 2010