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Hands (1995, 4.5 minutes)

Film maker: Adam Roberts
Choreographer and performer: Jonathan Burrows
Composer: Matteo Fargion

Design: Teresa MacCann

Lighting: Jack Hazan


Hands was made in 1995 as part of a season of short dance films for the Arts Council/BBC.

The concept was to make something that could only be seen on television - a close up pair of hands.

The initial idea was to have a musician sight-read a ‘score’ for the dance live on camera. The composer Matteo Fargion wrote a piece of music and substituted gestures for notes, which he then sight read slowly and with soft precision. The first page he wrote became the opening of the film, and is shared here.


This opening score represents the first one and a half minutes of the film. There are six drawings of hand gestures in the top right hand corner. The top stave of each row of music represents the right hand, and the bottom is the left hand. The movements of the piece follow exactly the timing suggested by the written notes, with numbers to indicate which of the six gestures to use when. There are also repeat signs after some sections.


The speed of the movement is 94 beats a minute, and the dance was rehearsed using a metronome.


The second part of the film follows the same process, but this time the speed of the movement is doubled.


As later parts of the dance became more and more physically complex, the decision was made that the final film would be performed by a dancer.

The film was shot in silence on 35mm film, in one long take.

The actual music you hear was written separately for the Balanescu String Quartet and dubbed onto the film afterwards. Any coincidence of movement and music in the film is mainly down to serendipity.


Fargion's small drawing of a hand also became the cover image for Burrows' A Choreographer's Handbook (2010), and so has become familiar to many readers of that book.

© Burrows&Fargion 2023

Hands score.jpg
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