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Interview by Wilson Le Personic

Posted on the MACULTURE website, February 28, 2022


For more than twenty years, the British dancer and choreographer Jonathan Burrows and the Italian musician and composer Matteo Fargion have been developing a body of work at the crossroads of dance, music and performance. With great intellectual rigor, latent humor and a pleasure in creating together, they produce pieces that are both radical and artisanal. The two artists present their pieces Both Sitting Duet and Science Fiction as part of the Conversations Festival Angers, two duets created almost twenty years apart and which explore the same problem: how to translate dance into music, and music into dance. This joint interview with Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion is an opportunity to address the reflections that circulate at the heart of their artistic approach.

Jonathan, Matteo, you have worked together for over twenty years. How do your respective writings dialogue and circulate in your pair?

Jonathan Burrows: We met over 20 years ago at a musical performance by Matteo. I remember I was ecstatic at the way the musical rhythm of his performance kept changing, sometimes in memory, sometimes in anticipation, and that's a quality that has remained in the work we have. developed together. At the beginning, we divided the work in a rather conventional way: I took care of the choreography and Matteo took care of the writing of the music. Then we decided to merge these roles and since then we have conceptualized, created, rehearsed, interpreted, all our work in an equitable way. 

Matteo Fargion: Much of my work is done collaboratively. Sharing responsibility for work makes creation less solitary. For 20 years, we have collaborated with Jonathan on an equal footing and we have developed clear strategies for dividing up the work. It is essential to trust each other's instincts and to be able to quickly let go of an idea that may seem wonderful to one person, but not necessarily to the other. Today, our common experience allows us to no longer need long discussions or negotiations. We have always looked for ways of collaborating that allow everyone to work alone, to initiate new ideas without the need for talks. Then we bring our material to the table and see what happens.

How has this collaboration unbalanced your respective practices?

Matteo: As a composer, I remember that I often got frustrated by the realization that the music did nothing but highlight the dance, the lights, the costumes, without anyone really paying attention. on the musical object, except when these different mediums enter into dissonance. Then Jonathan made me realize that different rules apply to music written for dance: it just has to be simpler, even dumber. If the composition is too dense or complex, the music becomes an unmanageable monster against which the movement cannot compete. Jonathan encouraged me to be less precious and less diligent. I would say that a third of our duets contain no music per se, sometimes there is no room for virtuosity and I am often the first to admit it.

Jonathan: For my part, Matteo suggested to me many years ago that I study composition with his teacher, the composer Kevin Volans. We therefore share a common training, sensitivity and mentor. In this sense, I have therefore always considered my choreographic practice to be deeply linked to Matteo's musical practice.

You are presenting your duo Both Sitting Duet, created in 2002, as part of the Conversations Festival. What does this piece represent in your career?

Matteo: Both Sitting Duet was the first duet we created together. For me, this piece marks a new stage in our relationship and in our artistic research, and it was also the first time that I went on stage as a “dancer”! I had proposed to Jonathan to translate a piece of music into movement without really knowing what it was going to give. It wasn't a good idea, but it was a good enough start. Six months of hard work later, we had played it in Brussels and no one wanted to keep the show alive beyond this performance... But 20 years later, it has become a kind of essential piece that we have played more than 400 times! But for us, it always remains relevant with each performance and it evolves as time goes by.

Could you tell us more about Both Sitting Duet ?

Matteo: Both Sitting Duet is a gestural translation of For John Cage(1982) by Morton Feldman, an elegant and intimate 90-minute piece for violin and piano, bar for bar and note for note. During the creation process, we had never listened to the music but rather followed the written score and found movements that could keep the rhythm. 


Jonathan: At the time, we were working with a group of students from PARTS and we had offered to accompany us in this research. The first time we showed them the piece, we hadn't had time to memorize it and we played it with the scores in front of us. They then advised us to keep the scores in sight and not to learn them, like for a concert. And this is how this piece has been performed for 20 years! It is still very open and forces us to listen to each other and to the public watching us. When we go on stage, we try to remain porous to the space we share: if the public laughs, we laugh… if they remain silent, we remain silent.

Both Sitting Duet is presented with Science Fiction , your new creation. What connections can we make between these two pieces?


Matteo: These two pieces both involve a process of translating one discipline into another, music through dance in Both Sitting Duet and more or less dance through music in Science Fiction  ; both carry the memory of a previous event, which makes it possible to anticipate a future: sometimes one can be right, but sometimes not, but in any case, there is great pleasure in this journey.

Could you come back to the genesis of this new duo?

Jonathan: We've always wanted to interpret a piece of music as a dance performance, but we never really found the way to do it. Then, during confinement, the constraint of isolation allowed us to go beyond our limits, as if this strange moment without the possibility of playing allowed us to revisit unfinished ideas that previously seemed impossible to implement. Our parts are often made up of the remnants of parts or processes that didn't work. So Science Fictionbegan with a silent march and a poem that became, after two years, an accumulative musical piece for synthesizers and percussion. But the march and the poem are always there, somewhere, buried in our bodies, when we play. Nothing is ever lost, and for us it is simply part of the continuity of a practice and a process.

Matteo, what specific writing tools did you design to compose the music?

Matteo: In our work, we have often used pre-determined empty structures, usually stolen from somewhere, in a completely different context, to organize our material. It's a fun and liberating way for us to work. For Science Fiction , I stuck quite rigidly to a mathematical sequence called Show and Tell, which grows exponentially with each iteration. On the other hand, I would not like the spectators to think that this information is important to understand what we are doing, this principle has just determined the composition of the piece: that is to say if Jonathan plays, if I play or if we play together. The track has 13 sections, which get longer, denser and more complex as it progresses.

What do these two pieces say about the evolution of your work over the past 20 years?

Jonathan: In a way, all of our duets are the same: most of them are half an hour long, handcrafted and devoid of theatrical devices. And once each piece is finished and we've played it for a while, the panic sets in: what can we do next? Is there unfinished work we could pick up? I guess we'll keep going the same way until we get bored or people completely lose interest in our experiences.

© Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargion and Wilson Le Personic, 2022

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