Drawing Dance


Here is a post about me watching drawing Speaking Dance by Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion.

The fact that I can draw at all is because the performance is to a (characteristically) small audience (and helped by the front row ‘cheap seat’) and because we the audience are lit as much as the performers. All of us sitting together to share in this jolly score of words and movement and music.

Here are the two empty chairs with which the piece opens:

Actually it is just one chair, reproduced. And in fact each chair was accompanied by a microphone on a stand, one with a keyboard harmonica laying on the floor beside it. But these were harder to draw and less symbolic of Burrows and Fargion so I chose to ignore them. My attention focussed on what I knew, what I could render most easily.

I saw them perform Counting to One Hundred in Vienna earlier this year and before it began, I took this photo which I sometimes use to play ‘guess the choreographer’. The chairs are different so I know that they don’t bring their own. Just themselves.

Burrows himself wrote that “The first things the audience see when the performance begins make a contract. This contact teaches the audience how to read the performance, at the same time as the performance is unfolding”. And so here, the familiar chairs place Speaking Dance clearly within the Burrows and Farigon canon. And when they reappear in Sudermann and Söderberg’s A Talk, later at Dance Umbrella, their piece is immediately placed in the context of Burrows and Farigon.

And here are Burrows and Fargion sitting on the chairs:

They are sitting for most of the piece which makes it easier to draw them. They are sitting reading from their song books. Burrows’s is blue and Fargion’s is green so they don’t get them mixed up.

At first glance they seem to be dressed quite casually as if they have walked off the street: But then I notice that they are wearing what look like identical unwashed Levis (505s I think) and identical thick-soled chelsea boots. Burrows’s are one shade of brown and Fargion’s are another, perhaps so they don’t get them mixed up.

I can’t believe this is a coincidence and start to ponder on the discussions that led to this costume choice. An almost uniform; understated and utilitarian. Is it an addition to signal their togetherness or a subtraction to remove anything that could distract from the piece? An almost hidden performative choice befitting the understated craft of the performance itself.

Burrows (the ‘dancer’) is wearing a t-shirt, Fargion (the ‘musician’) a shirt. So we don’t get them mixed up, because really they are both dancers and both musicians.

And there they make music with movement and words (English and Italian) and singing and and silence. With clapping hands, mouth organs, the keyboard harmonica, with words written on paper. With smiles.

And here is my original drawing of an empty chair and Fargion (the one above is actually two pictures pasted together):

Where is Burrows? Well this is drawn from one of the several moments when he rises from his chair to stand and dance. This is much harder to draw and I have not included my efforts.

But as I try to capture Burrows and see what is happening to his body and the shapes it makes, I am struck by a subtle virtuosity in his movement. With feet rooted to the floor (making his legs easy to draw), he bends over and rises again and his arms curve and flap round his body, like tentacles and behind him, like wings. And whereas in previous work I perhaps only noticed simple gestural movement, now I am entranced by fluid pulses that surge from his spine all the way out to his finger tips.

But as I draw Fargion sat on his own I think about how people (or perhaps it’s just me) often just refer to the pair as Jonathan Burrows. Is that because to a dance audience the choreographer is the most important person?

And here are the two empty chairs with which the piece closes:

Originally published in Platform