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Hands score.jpg

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

Burrows Fargion, Both Sitting Duet parallel scores (2002).jpg

Both Sitting Duet (2002, 35 minutes)


Both Sitting Duet was the first duet made by Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion. It has been performed hundreds of times in many different countries, venues and contexts, and the two artists continue to perform it regularly today. They way they describe it is that despite many performances, the piece never quite arrives. There's always something that seems to be about to make sense in the gap between the written score and what they're doing. This makes the piece seem always new at the point of performance.


The principle behind the making of Both Sitting Duet was  - 'Counterpoint assumes a love between the parts'.


Both Sitting Duet is a direct translation, note for note and bar for bar, of the violin and piano piece For John Cage by the American composer Morton Feldman (1926 - 1987).


The translation was made from the score of the music, and no recordings were listened to while the piece was being made. Both Sitting Duet borrows, therefore, the structure but not the atmosphere of the original.


The piece is performed sitting down, in silence. The choice to sit down was made in order that the two performers, one a composer and the other a choreographer, could be seen either as musicians or as dancers.


The material is mainly built up of hand and arm gestures. The principle for finding these gestures was 'to accept what came easily'.


The speed of the performance begins at the metronome marking of the original music, 120 beats a minute, but speeds up two thirds of the way through.


You will find here copies of both performer's scores, one written in classical musical notation and the other as a series of written numbers. These scores are placed at the feet of the performers and read throughout the performance.


In addition to the formal means of the structure, the performance is also mediated by a series of principles for performance, which include: 'how the audience sits is how we should sit', 'how we feel is how we behave', and 'there are no mistakes'.


© Burrows&Fargion 2023

Speaking Dance score for the opening (2006).jpg
Speaking Dance score for 'love' (2006).jpg
Speaking Dance score for 'big big small' (2006).jpg
Speaking Dance score for 'chicken yes come' (2006).jpg

Speaking Dance (2006, 45 minutes)


Created and performed by Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion.


The principle behind the making of Speaking Dance was - 'Do what we always do but this time use words', to which was added, at a later date and under some pressure the following caveat - 'And when we run out of words, keep going by whatever means necessary'.


The opening of Speaking Dance is a rapid counterpoint of loosely connected words, written around the idea of describing a dance that you can hear but never see.


Score 1 of Speaking Dance shows part of this opening. One performer is the top line and the other the bottom line, and when two words align they are spoken together.


Score 2 of Speaking Dance shows the section called 'Love', which is shouted above a piece of piano music written using material from one of the chorales in the St Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach. This chorale appears throughout the performance, sometimes in a way which makes it obvious, and sometimes hidden inside other structures and ideas.


Score 3 of Speaking Dance is from a section called 'Big, big, small'. This is drawn from the following simple looping pattern:


1 2 3

1 3 2

2 3 1

2 1 3

3 1 2

3 2 1


This pattern is used during the piece to order movements, time, space, sections, images, and in this case, text. The words 'big, big, small' are numbered '1, 2, 3', such that big = 1, big = 2 and small = 3, superimposing a pattern of two over a pattern of three. The pattern is then repeated substituting the sounds 'aah' for 'big', and 'mmm' for 'small'.


Scores 4 and 5 of Speaking Dance show the section 'Chicken, Yes Come'. Here the score for Matteo shows shouted words while the score for Jonathan indicates a series of gestures to coincide with the words. The words 'Chicken, Yes, Come', for instance, coincide with the gestures 'ring, thumb, flick'. This material is a translation of a section of the earlier piece Both Sitting Duet.

Score 4 also shows, on the right hand page, part of a set of descriptions by Rudolf Laban for dances to be made by students. These are shouted at the end of Speaking Dance. The full texts of these can be found in The Mastery Of Movement by Rudolf Laban, Northcote House Publishers Ltd., 1992 (1950), p. 51.



© Burrows&Fargion 2023

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