Interview with Daniela Perazzo Domm on reviving
The Stop Quartet
Jonathan Burrows’ The Stop Quartet was first performed in 1996. It is a choreography that opens as a duet, and only in its second half turns into a trio and then into a quartet. A score by Kevin Volans and Matteo Fargion, consisting of piano notes, dissonances, natural sounds and silences, is combined with Michael Hulls’s geometrical lighting, characterised by perpendicular beams creating a glowing grid on the dark floor. This interplay of media adds complexity to an already finely textured dance, where patterns of jerky movements and gangly steps, performed with apparent casualness and randomness, intersect meticulously and with studied precision. The result is a composition constructed around an intricate web of relationships between movements, sounds and lighting patterns, in which attention to structure coexists with freedom and playfulness.
William Forsythe has spoken of the work as a ‘masterpiece’ by which he ‘was deeply moved and changed’, observing that ‘it’s when the choreography is indivisible from the dancers that you have something’ (The Daily Telegraph).
It could be said that The Stop Quartet is a piece composed by accumulation. The choreographic structure, the movement material and their interrelation with the musical score and the lighting design are the product of a working method based on the constant interrogation of the fabric of the dance and on consequent additions of new elements and findings.
The language of the piece dissects the most basic movements that legs, arms, torso and head can execute to explore their possibilities of combination. The process of creation involved working with counterpoint, using a metronome to follow a beat and visualise it in the movement, and building basic blocks of steps which then, when they are combined, acquire unexpected complexity. The steps are performed on floor grids and, when executed very quickly, they blur into each other. The choreography rejects narrative elements, as well as interesting or virtuosic movements aimed at the physical expression of ideas or images.
Daniela Perazzo Domm: One of the things that fascinates me the most about The Stop Quartet is to do with its fabric, the layers of which the piece is composed, the tension between constriction and freedom, between the grid of the composition and the fluidity of the movement. I’m also interested in exploring and questioning the link between your work and artistic modes that can be described as abstract and minimalist.
Jonathan Burrows: The concept behind the way the different elements of The Stop Quartet work together came from Kevin Volans, Matteo Fargion and I going to see an exhibition of Gerhard Richter’s abstract paintings. Kevin was enthusing to us about these paintings that Richter had created by putting on layers of paint in different colours, and then wiping something across the canvas which took off the surface to reveal what was underneath: so where red had been buried under ten layers of history, you would suddenly get it reappearing in holes that he had swiped with a wooden implement, or something similar, across the canvas. And Kevin said: 'This should be the model for the piece, that with the music, the light and the movement, we each cut holes through which you can see or hear the other elements.' So Kevin encouraged us that these stops should be more than just pauses, they should be allowed to become material itself, equal to the movement or sound - hence The Stop Quartet.
About the question of the way in which some sense of ideas of minimalism comes into what I do - I never want to call it minimalism, because I always think that physically I’m usually trying to do something as rich as possible. I’ve always wondered if the fact that people feel that what I’m doing is minimal is more to do with how I want to concentrate on the thing itself and not dress it. But at the same time I do love things which you don’t question and which seem to be very effective, but which are made of simpler ingredients. With The Stop Quartet we were using really simple elements, and in a way you couldn’t break movement down more than we broke it down. So that gives it a certain feeling of something stripped back which then arrives at flying via a different route. But the idea of ‘less is more’ doesn’t really underpin my way of thinking.
DPD: Your more recent work could be perceived as having progressively moved away from accepted ideas of what dance and choreography are – I’m thinking in particular about your trilogy of duets with the composer Matteo Fargion (Both Sitting Duet, The Quiet Dance and Speaking Dance, 2002-06). However, a number of threads seem to link these more recent duets with a piece like The Stop Quartet, to do especially with how you work with rhythm and counterpoint and with how freedom and spontaneity emerge from tightly composed movement scores. What is the idea behind the remaking of this 1996 work?
JB: I wanted to revisit The Stop Quartet because essentially it's the same piece as the three duets I made more recently with Matteo Fargion. It shares with them the same love of counterpoint, the same structural games, the same duration, the same joy of rhythm and pulse and the same ideas of openness in performance. And it was a piece that we could have toured more and didn't, because at that time I wanted to move on to something new, so not so many saw it. For me the interest is in the fact that The Stop Quartet is more conventionally a dance piece, and yet shares a lot in common with the duets, which are more about performance. I wanted to remind myself what dance can or can't do by comparison with the other possibilities. Also I was curious how this might fit into the ongoing conversation in dance about whether movement itself can communicate or not.
The way The Stop Quartet is made is quite formal, like all the things I make, but at the same time it uses principles for performance which push against the formality to arrive at something hopefully more human. The way we share time in the piece is very intimate, and is summed up by something the percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky once said to me: 'You have to be right there, and at the same time you have to give it up completely'. You have to be fully yourself performing, and then give it all away to the person next to you - and in that moment there's a sense of liberation, of taking flight.
© Daniela Perazzo Domm and Jonathan Burrows, 2008