Article by Valerie Briginshaw
on Both Sitting Duet
Difference and Repetition in Both Sitting Duet
In this paper I intend to explore Jonathan Burrows’s and Matteo Fargion’s Both Sitting Duet (2002) alongside some ideas from Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition (1994). For me, there are several resonances between these two very different works. Both are, importantly, open works – they open up respectively movement, dance and music, and thought, ideas, concepts and philosophy. In doing this they both open up possible worlds. One critic has said of Both Sitting Duet that it ‘opens a world of many options’ (Skene-Wenzel,2003: n.p.). Deleuze, when discussing relations between self and other that emerge from his argument in Difference and Repetition, writes of ‘expressions’ of ‘possible worlds’ claiming, ‘there is no love which does not begin with the revelation of a possible world’ (1994: 261). Fargion, when discussing Both Sitting Duet, asserted that: ‘counterpoint assumes a love between the parts’ (in interview with Hutera, 2003: n.p.). Through their focus on, and different explorations of difference and repetition, both works investigate and play with ‘love’ or relations between parts. In identifying and playing in and between the resonances that themselves play between these two works I aim to show how each can reveal something of the other.
Both Sitting Duet is a 45 minute piece devised and performed by long time collaborators: dancer and choreographer, Jonathan Burrows; and composer, Matteo Fargion. As the title indicates, it is a largely sedentary duet where the two performers sit on chairs close to and slightly turned towards each other, and near to and facing the audience. There are large open notebooks on the floor in front of each. These contain their scores and are referred to throughout by the performers who occasionally turn a page, although rarely at the same time. The duet consists of rhythmic, repetitive patterns of mainly hand movements often touching other parts of the body such as thighs, chest and the other hand, and occasionally also, the floor. The ways in which these patterns are developed, varied, contrasted, performed in unison, overlapped and alternated, constitute the multiple differences and repetitions we witness, as do the range of rhythms, dynamics and qualities they play with; from regular to irregular, fluid to fierce, vigorous to gentle, and ‘throw away’ to carefully placed. In this sense the concept of counterpoint is relentlessly explored, played with and in the process exploded.
In the Preface to Difference and Repetition Deleuze asserts: ‘I make, remake and unmake my concepts along a moving horizon, from an always decentered centre, from an always displaced periphery which repeats and differentiates them’ (1994: xxi).
Continuous movement where nothing is ever fixed is important for Deleuze’s philosophy. For him, thought, ideas, concepts are forever moving, on the move. In this sense it might be claimed that any dance, because of the movement involved, would have resonances with his work. But it is not just ‘a moving horizon’ that concerns him but one that is from ‘an always decentered centre, an always displaced periphery’ (ibid). Decentering and displacement in one sense suggest the unexpected and things left to chance, and although Burrows and Fargion follow a score, and so nothing appears to be left to chance in their duet, the choreography is such that it seems impossible to work out what is coming next. The work looks deceptively predictable, but in fact it surprises throughout. As with Deleuze’s concepts, the patterns in Both Sitting Duet seem to be made, remade and unmade but from an always decentered centre and an always displaced periphery, we never know quite where they are coming from. This element of uncertainty is perhaps one of its attractions, one of the reasons it fascinates and captures the attention of audiences.
When I saw the duet at the Place Theatre, London, I was absolutely riveted from beginning to end. Talking to other spectators, it seemed I was not the only one, the performance was indeed gripping as reviews corroborate: ‘mesmerising performance’ (Nottingham Evening Post, 2003) and ‘utterly absorbing; I doubt if anyone in the audience took their eyes off the seated figures for a second’ (Williams, 2003:n.p.). Yet this duet consists mainly of abstract hand gestures to no music performed by two ordinary looking, middle-aged men. Here, for me, is another parallel with Deleuze’s work; the air of mystery that surrounds the performance and keeps an audience engaged. In Difference and Repetition Deleuze discusses at length the limitations of representation, its grounding tendencies and links with notions of origin. For example, he claims that ‘difference…cannot be thought in itself, so long as it is subject to the requirements of representation’ (1994: 262), and when discussing repetition, he suggests ‘a complete reversal of the world of representation’ (ibid:301). Both Sitting Duet in various ways also works against notions of representation and origin. This in part comes from the repetition of weird gestures that do not appear to represent anything. For example, complex twists and brushes of hands in the air, as if on a roller coaster ride, are performed alongside much more straightforward moves, where hands are simply placed on thighs, one palm up and the other palm down, and then turned over. Even if one does recognise a move such as a ‘thumbs up’ sign, it is repeated and played with amongst other signs and gestures such that it loses its point of reference. These gestures seem to have no obvious meaning, or origin, they appear to represent nothing beyond themselves. There appears to be no point.
The mystery of the performance also arises from the deceptive complexity of the duet, which looks comparatively simple and yet at the same time is exceedingly intricate and difficult to fathom. On several levels it embodies simultaneously various pairs of apparent opposites in a Deleuzean manner. Its performers are, for example, both ordinary and extraordinary, dependent and independent; its performance is both pedestrian and virtuosic, spectacular and unspectacular, and all at the same time, resulting in ‘a bizarre world of meaning and nonsense’ (Skene-Wenzel, 2003: n.p.). In Both Sitting Duet the boundaries between music and dance are also repeatedly blurred. Alongside beautifully constructed designs of hands dancing, we hear unusual sounds and rhythms, as hands smooth across clothed bodies, or fingers flick, scrape or knock on different surfaces, resulting in, as one spectator commented, a confusion of the senses (see Brown, 2003a: n.p.).
Another parallel with parts of Difference and Repetition is evident in the comedy of the piece, which appears at times, parodic and laced with irony. Deleuze also asserts that, ‘repetition belongs to humour and irony; it is by nature transgression or exception, always revealing a singularity opposed to the particulars subsumed under laws’ (1994:5). The importantly transgressive character of Deleuze’s notion of repetition, which does not repeat the same, but reveals singularities that, in their opposition to ‘particularities of laws’, can shift our thinking, is paramount in his argument. For me, this has similarities with the affective elements of Both Sitting Duet, which I argue can also be seen as transgressive and subversive with the potential for change.
One of the keys to the humour of Both Sitting Duet is the relationship between Burrows and Fargion, which is evident in looks, timing and the material they both repeat and differentiate between them. This most closely resonates with Deleuze’s argument in Difference and Repetition where it concerns relations with ‘the Other’. For Deleuze, the Other is bound up with notions of individuation, difference and simulacra, which, as copies of copies, are also intimately involved with repetition. Both Sitting Duet, in its plays between the two performers, between music and dance, and between repetitions and differences within movement and sound, also involves various relations with ‘the other’. In the process it creates and plays with copies of copies such that it can be seen as a series of simulacra.
Deleuze’s extremely complex argument that repetition is always productive rather than reductive, in the sense that it involves difference rather than the same, revolves around these ideas. For me, because Both Sitting Duet also works on several levels at the same time, and these levels at times overlap, it too is a complex work, although on a very different scale. These complexities in the piece and the various parallels with some of Deleuze’s ideas, to me, suggest recourse to his Difference and Repetition. The intricacies of each work, for me, make them mutually and reciprocally attractive. They merit investigation alongside each other.
The article proceeds as follows. After an introduction to Both Sitting Duet, I focus on the resonances between it and Deleuze’s ideas. These are played with in no particular order since the journey is nomadic and open-ended. It meanders and spirals in a rhizomatic way such that there is repetition but, as in the ‘nomadic distributions’ of Burrows and Fargion and of Deleuze, it will always involve difference and never be the same.
Both Sitting Duet
The piece opens as Burrows and Fargion walk into the performance space and sit down. They are plainly dressed in jeans and boots. Burrows wears a beige coloured long sleeved tee-shirt, whilst Fargion is in a blue cotton shirt, both have their sleeves rolled up. As they bend to sit down they hitch their jeans up slightly for comfort and both adopt a typical male pose sitting with feet astride and knees apart. Throughout they often place or rest their hands on their thighs again in a typically masculine posture. At times they lean forward in this position looking as if they are about to start a conversation, like two men in a bar or pub, but instead they surprise us by turning a page of their score or taking the bend forward into another phrase of movement. This exemplifies a key characteristic of the work, which is its plays between pedestrian and more obviously virtuosic moves or gestures. At times it is difficult to know whether the pair are performing or not. There are many pauses; where one, or the other, or both appear to be resting or marking time, just sitting with hands on thighs or in their laps. One watches the other, or stares into space or at the audience, but then they break into a flourish of elaborate activity again. The boundaries between performance and non-performance are often blurred in this way and because the pauses vary in length, the resumption of activity, or its cessation, often catches us unawares.
The repertoire of movement material seems both limited, because it is mainly focussed in the hands and arms, but also extensive, because of the ways in which it is varied. The piece begins with Fargion flicking the backs of his fingers of both hands down his thighs, then quite sharply tapping his thighs with the outside of his hands, and raising his hands over his ears without touching them. Almost at the same time Burrows gestures with both hands diagonally down to his right whilst bending and picking an invisible fleck of dust up from the floor with the middle finger of his right hand. Each repeats their moves six or seven times almost simultaneously, so that we begin to see the intricacy of them, and then Burrows picks up Fargion’s phrase and performs it with him a few times. Next they alternate this phrase and finally Burrows resumes his earlier pattern whilst Fargion continues his. By this time Fargion’s phrase has been repeated more than twenty times and Burrows’s only slightly less. But each repetition is a little different: sometimes one will look at the other or at the other’s hands; sometimes one finishes slightly before or slightly after the other; or the energy put into the move and its size occasionally varies. Sometimes the differences are hardly noticeable, at others they are blindingly obvious, as one, or other, or both, completely change their material or manner of performance. This sets the scene for what is to follow. The duet consists of both working at one pattern or another repeatedly, for a period of time; sometimes the same pattern, sometimes different, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes successively. One series follows another, at times the phrases gradually metamorphose into one another, at others, there are abrupt changes.
After a short pause Burrows introduces a new pattern. This is more fancy and florid than before, as forearms are rubbed together in front of the face making a swishing sound with hands twisting in the air, being clasped and held for a moment before being carefully replaced on thighs. Fargion, having glanced at Burrows and his own score, performs the same phrase, but his version is slightly less extravagant. They continue repeating one after another setting up different rhythms and plays between each other. Occasionally Burrows watches Fargion and then repeats his version with a little more emphasis. These disparate repetitions almost become competitive in a friendly manner and exemplify the close relationship that exists throughout. Although the two men do not speak, rarely touch each other, or catch each other’s eye, they seem very attuned to each other. After a pause for example, they each seem to know exactly when to start.
As the piece progresses more adventurous phrases are introduced. At one point the pair appear to be throwing something over their shoulders, or at another, to be vigorously swinging an arm forward at their side as if tenpin bowling. The concentration, energy and fervour, that each puts into these seemingly meaningless tasks, is humorous at times, possibly because the pedantic attention to detail on the one hand is often combined with a casual throw away approach on the other. There are rather ironic stark contrasts between everyday moves such as counting the fingers one by one and more theatrical and emotional flourishes when hands are shaken and crossed in front of the face as if to say ‘No! no! no!’ When Burrows has rapidly repeated a thumbs up sign, a circle made with finger and thumb, and a flat palm ‘Stop’ sign seemingly endlessly, he looks into the space above him as if trying to remember something. Is he trying to recall this relatively simple phrase he is repeating, or what comes next and when, or something completely different, perhaps? The effect appears parodically ‘laid back’ and relaxed after some of the intensive activity that has preceded it.
Although the duet is performed in silence various sounds are evident from swishing and brushing of hands on flesh, fabric or floor to more obviously percussive noises, such as claps and stamps. The rubber undersoles of boots are audibly scuffed with fingers and their leather sides are knocked with knuckles making a distinctive sound. The hand clapping varies from firm and loud to more pedantic and hollow. The slower hand claps make Burrows and Fargion look like an unenthusiastic audience. Perhaps we as spectators are being reflected in this subversive repetition. ‘Pretend claps’ are also performed where the palms teasingly never quite touch and Fargion repeatedly slaps his upper arms with his hands at one point. The only other sounds are the performers’ breathing after frenzied activity and sometimes their contact with the chairs in particularly vigorous routines that take them momentarily away from them. At two points more than half way through the performance the two men unexpectedly start shouting. Fargion repeats ‘yum yum yum yum’ and later he and Burrows both call out ‘hey hey hey hey’, one performing at double the speed of the other. This transgressive outburst is initially shocking, it adds to the air of mischief that occasionally surfaces in the performance.
The performers approach each task in a serious and workmanlike fashion, reminding me of an earlier Burrows solo made for television with music by Fargion; Hands (1995), also consisting entirely of hand gestures. This opens with close-up shots of stone and plaster, which together with Burrows’s rolled up sleeves and long apron, relate the hand gestures performed to those of a stone mason, potter or sculptor. There are also times in Both Sitting Duet when I thought the performers looked like labourers: craftsmen of various kinds; carpenters planing wood, potters shaping clay, bakers kneading and folding dough, jugglers or barmen shaking cocktails, but none of these actions is a direct mimed copy that can be identified. They are all played with through repetition and variation. So, although at times their semaphore resembles that of cricket umpires, traffic policemen, bookies or orchestra conductors, it is in fact none of these. It has been copied, played with and repeated so many times out of context that it has been removed from the original source. Gestures performed may contain hints of a recognisable code but they always become more abstracted: through incessant repetition; through combination with something very different; or perhaps through a change in design, size or dynamic of the original. These are typical of the many differentiations in the repetition of the piece which, by playing between dance and movement, music and sound and one performer and another, result in the rich mix of difference and repetition which constitutes Both Sitting Duet.
In the Preface to his Difference and Repetition Deleuze asserts that ‘the subject dealt with here is manifestly in the air’ (1994: xix). This is because it is of this time. It has currency and contemporary relevance. Elizabeth Grosz, for example, points to its pertinence for feminist politics. Drawing on Deleuze’s reading of Henri Bergson’s notion of duration, which underpins his argument in Difference and Repetition, Grosz claims that in order to conceive of ‘new’ futures, we need ‘a history that defies repeatability or generalisation’, that is one that defies a repetition of the same. This is because, she continues, ‘only such a history would be commensurate with a politics directed to the pragmatics of change’ (Grosz, 2000: 229). She argues ‘such a history …is mobilised …to bring out the latencies, the potentiality of the future to be otherwise than the present’ (ibid: 230) or, to be different. I also believe Both Sitting Duet has the potential to suggest change because of the new ways of being, or becoming in Deleuze’s terms, its subversive and transgressive affective tendencies suggest. Writing about the piece, one critic commented: ‘imaginative dancemaking … reminds you not just of the possibilities of the body in motion but of the potentialities of life itself’ (thedanceinsider.com cited in Hutera, 2003:n.p.).
Deleuze, referring to ‘modern life’ writes of the perpetuation of ‘mechanical and stereotypical repetitions, within and without us’ (1994: xix). In other words there is a sense in which we are trapped in an entropic space of repetition of the same because we fail to recognise the potential for movement, fluidity and change in repetition that is imbued with difference. For example, in a review of Both Sitting Duet in Ballet Magazine, when critic, Ann Williams comments, ‘there’s nothing that could truly be described as “dancing” in “Both Sitting”’ (2003: n.p.), in Deleuze’s terms she is reiterating mechanical and stereotypical repetitions of the same concept of ‘dancing’. By implication she restates traditional boundaries that contain and fix ideas about what ‘dancing’, and by extension ‘dance, is and can be. She has failed to recognise the potential for change in the concept of ‘dancing’ which Both Sitting Duet manifests. The performance shows how in Deleuze’s terms ‘dance’ can be an open Idea, which embodies difference and excess, rather than a concept, which is confined and closed. In Deleuze’s words, ‘Ideas are not concepts; they are a form of eternally positive differential multiplicity, distinguished from the identity of concepts’ (1994: 288). Williams provides further evidence of her singular focus on ‘concepts’, in Deleuze’s terms, by commenting on the difference in performance of Burrows, ‘a dancer’, who has ‘unmistakable grace’ to which ‘the eye is continually drawn’, and of Fargion, ‘a composer, not a dancer, yet he matched Burrows movement for movement with only slightly less ease and elasticity’ (2003: n.p.). Here boundaries between dance and music, which have been displaced in the performance, opening these concepts up as Ideas, are re-erected in writing through a repetition of the same.
Deleuze continues: ‘the task of life is to make all these repetitions coexist in a space in which difference is distributed’ (1994: xix). It is my contention that Both Sitting Duet goes some way toward opening up such a space, not least because its format of a series of repetitive patterns performed mainly with hands enables a focus on the distribution of subtle but multiplicitous differences. For example, Burrows and Fargion complete a simple phrase turning their palms out to face the audience, whilst the backs of their hands are placed on their knees. It resembles the response of a small child when asked what it is holding. These straightforward repeated actions are performed almost in unison at a moderate pace such that we are able to see the subtle difference between them, which comes from the two performers. Fargion is more stolid, broader and more firmly set, his hands have a weight about them that Burrows’s lack. They look slightly bigger, whereas Burrows is able to achieve more lightness and at times delicacy in his gestures, his fingers are more apart than Fargion’s when he opens his palm. When they withdraw their hands bringing them back onto their laps, Fargion’s fingers seem to curve slightly more than Burrows’s. These differences are almost imperceptible but because the actions are repeated we begin to glimpse them. The action is then speeded up and Burrows begins his gesture forward from the shoulders so that it is larger, it becomes less pedestrian and more theatrical with a little more style and volume, although it still ends with Fargion’s as before. Here the development of the phrase has further opened the space in which difference is distributed in Deleuze’s terms.
However in order for this space to fulfill its potential for change, according to Deleuze, we need to rethink what we mean by difference and repetition, and this task requires ‘two lines of research’ (ibid). One is to argue for and fashion a concept of ‘difference without negation’ (ibid: xx), that is to rethink difference such that it does not have to involve ‘opposition’ and ‘contradiction’. The ways in which Both Sitting Duet blurs boundaries between oppositional or contradictory notions, such as the ordinary and the extraordinary, performance and non-performance, the dependent and the independent, ‘the prosaic and the graceful, the serious and the absurd’ (Nottingham Evening Post, 2003: n.p.) provide examples of the co-existence of differences that do not negate each other.
The other line of research, for Deleuze, is to conceive of repetition in which ‘bare repetitions (repetitions of the Same) would find their raison d’être in the more profound structures of a hidden repetition in which a “differential” is disguised and displaced’ (1994: xx). There are many different levels of repetition at work in Both Sitting Duet, some more hidden than others, where ‘differentials’ are disguised and displaced. As well as the repetitions in the movement patterns and rhythms of the piece, there are repetitions compared with previous performances and rehearsals, and from other works by Burrows, such as Hands, and also from already existing repertoires of movement. Plays with disguise and displacement of difference within repetition at these various levels can result in unexpected elements, which shock and surprise in Both Sitting Duet. For example, within the piece there is a phrase of vigorous arm swings that start going backward, which Burrows and Fargion begin performing in unison. Just as we are getting into the infectious rhythm of this pattern Fargion suddenly stops and rests his hands on his knees – he misses a swing such that when he resumes he is swinging back when Burrows is going forward. Then Burrows stops suddenly, and when he restarts the two are in harmony again. But then each of them keeps stopping and they go in and out of time but not in any apparent pattern, although they do end back together again. Here the ‘differential’ between Burrows and Fargion, in Deleuze’s terms, keeps being displaced, such that we do not know where to expect it next. There is an element of play, deception or disguise at work, which makes the repetition productive. There is a sense in which, as Deleuze asserts: ‘repetition is this emission of singularities, always with an echo or resonance which makes each the double of the other, or each constellation the redistribution of another’ (ibid: 201).
Deleuze claims repetition, through the work of philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Péguy, as ‘the fundamental category of the philosophy of the future’ (ibid: 5). It is perhaps not surprising that repetition plays this role, for as Deleuze claims, ‘repetition is everywhere…it is in the Idea to begin with, and it runs through the varieties of relations and the distributions of singular points. It also determines the productions of space and time, as it does the reprises of consciousness. In every case repetition is the power of difference and differentiation’ (ibid: 220). The ways in which repetition is played with in Both Sitting Duet reveal some of its powers of difference and differentiation. For example, when Burrows and Fargion simultaneously wipe their hands over their faces, they appear to be removing perspiration. Where Burrows wipes his hand down once, Fargion wipes his face three times with alternate hands, his rhythm is more brisk. Initially his three hand wipe appears to measure Burrows’s one hand wipe exactly, but then Burrows makes his one wipe last longer, so Fargion has to wait for him to finish before he repeats his phrase. Each time, although they perform the face wipes together, the timing is slightly different, such that either Burrows finishes with Fargion, slightly after him, or quite a bit later. Repetition’s powers of difference and differentiation are played with and demonstrated here. ‘Varieties of relations’, between the face wipes, in this instance, can also be seen, as can distributions of singular points; here, the points where Burrows finishes his phrase, which vary each time. As with many of the plays between Burrows’s and Fargion’s performances in Both Sitting Duet the divergencies or differences are evident both spatially and temporally. Spatially, we see Burrows’s hand return to his lap after his face wipe, either alongside Fargion’s or slightly behind his, or on its own. Temporally, the hands complete their phrase at the same time, or successively; one is delayed and behind the other’s time sometimes slightly and sometimes considerably. As Deleuze indicates, repetition can be seen to ‘determine the productions of space and time’ (ibid).
An important element of Deleuze’s argument concerns the distinction between repetition on the one hand and resemblance on the other. He asserts ‘repetition and resemblance are different in kind – extremely so’ (1994:1). This distinction provides the space for repetition to diversify, to depart from the same and engage with difference. This involves rethinking repetition such that it does not involve reiteration of the same and hence departs from a logic of identity or of resemblance, providing a space for differentiation and divergence. The abstract and apparently meaningless character of the gestures performed in Both Sitting Duet departs from a logic of identity or resemblance. The gestures for the most part are non-mimetic, they do not resemble or represent anything but themselves. They do not obviously refer back to some recognisable identity. In this sense they can be seen to behave like simulacra.
For Deleuze ‘simulacra are the letter of repetition itself’ (1994:17). They play an important role in his discussion of difference and repetition because, as he indicates, ‘all identities are only simulated, produced as an optical “effect” by the more profound game of difference and repetition’ (1994: xix). Simulacra are more than just copies or imitations, because their repetition involves difference. They challenge notions of copying or imitating, which involve resemblance. As Deleuze claims: ‘the simulacrum is not just a copy, but that which overturns all copies by also overturning the models’ (his emphasis) (ibid: xx). Simulacra are in a sense copies taken to extremes. They are copies that through repetition of copies of copies involve difference, such that the original model is no longer evident or apparent, in Deleuze’s terms, it is overturned. He claims, ‘the modern world is one of simulacra’ (ibid: xix). In the western world much of what we experience is simulated in one sense or another, we are surrounded by simulacra, by copies of copies. There are so many simulations that originals are no longer distinguishable from them. Both Sitting Duet is a hymn to the series of copies of copies that involve differences of differences that simulacra constitute. Burrows and Fargion happily reiterate one repetition after another. They appear to be copies or imitations, but they are not, because they revel in the plays of differences of differences that they produce.
Deleuze cites modern art as a site of simulacra claiming, ‘art is simulation, it reverses copies into simulacra’ (ibid: 293). He gives Andy Warhol’s ‘serial’ series as an example where, ‘Pop Art pushed the copy, copy of the copy, etc., to that extreme point at which it reverses and becomes a simulacrum’ (ibid: 294). The series of repetitions and differences which are rife in Both Sitting Duet are similar to those in Warhol’s works. They are instances of the law of diminishing returns where each repetition diminishes the value or ‘aura’ in Walter Benjamin’s (1973) terms, of the original, so that through repetition it becomes no longer an original and a copy, but a series of copies without an original. In Both Sitting Duet the repetitions of the vocabularies of gestures and movements lose the affective power they might have if only seen for the first time, but become affective in a different sense through the patterns and textures of their repetitions. Gestural patterns are repeated, but changed slightly; through repetition by the other performer, or through size increases or decreases, or they have something added or taken away. It is often difficult to distinguish what has changed because it is so subtle, just as with Warhol’s prints of Marilyn Monroe’s face, for example.
There are references to different dance forms within Both Sitting Duet but because the actions are repeated out of context, they lose their original point and become copies of copies or simulacra. For example, Burrows performs the classical port de bras of five arm positions whilst Fargion accompanies each with a slow hand clap. With repetition Fargion’s claps change their timing not always coinciding with the placement of Burrows’s arms, so that perhaps only one clap is performed throughout the sequence. The combination of the two men’s performances, as copies of copies, becomes something else. It is a simulacrum which has lost its point of reference. In amongst a welter of small hand signs in the duet, occasional mudras from Indian classical dance seem to appear, but it is difficult to single them out as they merge into the simulacral mirage of signs being repeatedly performed. At one point Burrows and Fargion join hands, but this is not a simple holding of hands, the hands are held up and out in front and one is placed in the other’s palm as if for a minuet. But because the pair are seated and looking down at their scores or elsewhere as they repeat the actions, the gesture is removed from its original source. It has become a simulacrum through the plays of repetition and difference that have occurred.
Both Sitting Duet reveals simulacra at work in several senses. The piece originates from a musical score which Burrows and Fargion prefer not to name. It is both iconic like Monroe for Warhol, but also in a sense a homage and a simulacrum in itself, like Warhol’s prints. It is a violin and piano piece entitled For John Cage by Morton Feldman (Brown, 2003a: n.p.), which Burrows and Fargion admit they had been ‘obsessed with’ (in interview with Hutera, 2003: n.p.). When asked why they did not want to name it, Burrows answered: ‘because those people who know it would always be waiting for it, and those who don’t would feel excluded. It’s kind of irrelevant’ (ibid). Burrows’s sentiments here resonate closely with Deleuze’s ideas concerning the limitations of notions of origin and identity, which are bound up with those of resemblance and representation, which constrain thought. Deleuze cites the simulacrum as ‘the act by which the very idea of a model or privileged position is challenged and overturned’ (1994:69). Again he refers to art claiming that ‘when a modern work of art develops its permutating series and its circular structures, it indicates to philosophy a path leading to the abandonment of representation’ (ibid: 68-9). I am suggesting that this is precisely what Both Sitting Duet does. Through its ‘permutating series and its circular structures’ (ibid) it suggests the abandonment of representation, in the sense of reference to origins, because, as Burrows indicates, ‘it’s…irrelevant’.
What Burrows and Fargion did with the musical score shows how simulacra operate. They made ‘a direct transcription of it – with the same tempo bar for bar, note for note’ (Burrows in interview with Hutera, 2003: n.p.). They did this by creating simulacra on several levels: by creating series of repetitive and rhythmic movements and sounds, and, in the process, by also each creating their own scores. These scores, which were left on stage available for view after the performance, consisted of combinations of numbers, words, hieroglyphics of various kinds, such as dashes and squiggles, and musical notes and time signatures. Each of these was another copy of a copy, a simulacrum. When Burrows and Fargion looked at what they had created they claimed they were ‘quite surprised, because whereas the world of this music is a kind of hovering, rocking, quiet thing, we seemed to be more jolly and folk-dancey’ (ibid). Here it seems, in Deleuze’s words, are: ‘rebellious images which lack resemblance’ - ‘simulacra’ (1994: 272), or, as he claims elsewhere, ‘the simulacrum is constructed around a disparity, a difference, it interiorises a dissimilitude’ (1990: 258). Burrows and Fargion had transported us from the ‘hovering, rocking, quiet’ world of the original score, through repetition and difference, via copies of copies, or simulacra, to another different ‘possible world’, a ‘jolly’, ‘folk-dancey’ one. This ‘world’ is one where, as Ramsay Burt comments, ‘the original music is essentially absent and only present through its translation into another idiom’ (2003: n.p.).
As is evident in Both Sitting Duet simulacra are positively transgressive and subversive, they are, from one of Deleuze’s perspectives, condemned because of their ‘oceanic differences…nomadic distributions and crowned anarchies’ (Deleuze, 1994: 265), and because they are ‘ungrounded false claimants’ (ibid: 274). They ‘emerge’ from ‘groundlessness’ (ibid: 276). In their rebelliousness and flightiness he terms them variously: ‘phantasms’ (ibid: 126, 127), ‘demonic images’ (ibid: 127), ‘dreams, shadows, reflections, paintings’ (ibid:68). He suggests the ‘world of simulacra’ is one of ‘metamorphoses, of…differences of differences, of breaths…of…mysteries’ (his emphasis) (ibid:243). One critic writing of Both Sitting Duet alludes to ‘Two men on stage…an instant story. Brothers, rivals, workmates, lovers, Laurel and Hardy…all these evocations emerge like wispy genie’ (Brown, 2003b: n.p.). Importantly these are, for her, ‘evocations’ and not representations and their emergence like ‘wispy genie’ suggests an air of mystery. The co-existence of the differences evident in these evocations qualify them as instances of simulacra in Deleuze’s terms; they appear, disappear and co-exist like images in dreams, phantasms, shadows, reflections or paintings.
Because of the systems of differences of differences, of the affirmation of divergence and decentering, that Deleuze attributes to simulacra, it is perhaps not surprising that he suggests that if they refer to any model, it is to ‘a model of the Other, an other model, the model of difference in itself’ (1994: 128). Or, as he suggests elsewhere, ‘a model of the Other from which follows an interiorised dissimilarity’ (Deleuze, 1990: 258). One of the distinctive features of Both Sitting Duet is the intriguing relationship that transpires between its two performers. Many reviewers mention that they are long-term collaborators; Fargion has composed for Burrows for thirteen years, and many comment on the ways in which an obvious friendship and intimacy between the pair is evident in their performance, which one terms a ‘buddy ballet’ (Brown, 2003b: n.p.). For me, the various relations we witness between Burrows and Fargion during the course of the performance have resonances with some of Deleuze’s ideas concerning the Other.
Deleuze uses the term ‘Other’ in Difference and Repetition in various senses, but a key source is psychoanalysis. The binary oppositions of subject and object and presence and lack are expressed in traditional Freudian psychoanalytic theory via the Oedipal myth by reference to the ‘Other’. Deleuze rejects these theories which he claims: ‘oscillate mistakenly…from a pole at which the other is reduced to the status of object to a pole at which it assumes the status of subject’ (1994:260). ‘As a result’, he claims, ‘the structure of the other, as well as its role in psychic systems, remained misunderstood’ (ibid). The ‘Other’ for Deleuze is ‘defined…by its expressive value…its implicit and enveloping value’ (ibid). For him, ‘the Other cannot be separated from the expressivity which constitutes it’ (ibid). It is evident throughout Both Sitting Duet in one sense as the differentiating factor that plays within and between Burrows and Fargion and the sequences of movements they execute. When they perform a sequence of five parts reaching up with both arms, circling to the side with one, reaching up again, circling heads with arms, and throwing palms forward, it is impossible to separate the differentiating elements out from the expressivity of the sequence as a whole. This is in part because the elements are intertwined with each other when the phrase is repeated, since the order of the parts is changed. In doing this Burrows and Fargion are playing with the repetitive elements. Whatever the sequence expresses to us is embodied within it in its totality of repetitions and variations, or within the differentiating factor that plays between them. Sequences such as this can be regarded as instances of ‘Other-structures’ in Deleuze’s terms.
Deleuze sees the Other in terms of ‘individuating factors’ or those that make a difference. He claims that ‘in psychic systems…there must be centres of envelopment which testify to the presence of individuating factors. These centres are…constituted neither by the I nor by the Self, but by a completely different structure belonging to the I-Self system. This structure should be designated by the name “other”’(ibid). In this sense ‘the Other…functions as a centre of enwinding, envelopment or implication’ (ibid:261). In Both Sitting Duet the gestures, patterns and looks exchanged between Burrows and Fargion seem also to be ‘centres of enwinding, envelopment or implication’. What is implicated or expressed by them cannot be separated from them or situated in either one of the performers, it rather exists between them. They sit very close to each other, they often perform similar or, what appear to be, the same gestures, they often look at each other, or one looks at the other. For example, when the pair perform a simple phrase consisting of placing their palms down on their knees, one palm up the other down and turning them over, they look at each other’s performance as if to try and fathom the puzzle or riddle, that they are performing. These looks are affective. They add a recognition of the other involving difference to the repetitive plays being performed. These looks form part of a circulation of signs between the two performers and their performance that can be seen as centres of enwinding, envelopment or implication. They make up the piece’s affective qualities. As a result, our eyes are drawn to the space between them imbued with these intensities and multiplicities. It is as if a seductive energy emanates from that space, because of the interconnectivity of the Other that plays between them and structures their relationship.
It is perhaps not surprising that the subject/object, self/other binary is dissolved in a Deleuzean manner in this performance, since Burrows claimed that when they were making the piece their intention was: ‘to find something that we could place between us that was neither too much Matteo nor too much me, but which could be an arbiter of our process’ (in Hutera, 2003, n.p.). They have certainly succeeded in doing this. The ‘something’ they have found; the ‘arbiter’ of their process is, in Deleuze’s terms, the ‘Other-structure’. This makes the work radical. As one reviewer suggested: ‘Burrows’s Both Sitting Duet isn’t a usual choreography at all, since it is an equal partnership between him and his friend’ (Brown, 2003a: n.p.). The equality of the partnership means that it is impossible to distinguish one as subject and the other as object within it. It is as Deleuze claims ‘as though the Other integrated the individuating factors and pre-individual singularities within the limits of objects and subjects’ (his emphasis) (1994: 281). This is because, ‘the Other should not…be anyone, neither you nor I…it is a structure…implemented only by variable terms in different perceptual worlds – me for you in yours, you for me in mine’ (ibid). I am arguing that in the course of Both Sitting Duet the relationship between Burrows and Fargion is such that they inhabit each other’s perceptual worlds in this Deleuzean sense. In another sense there is an ethics of hospitality and welcome evident between them (Burt, 2004).
In their radical blurring of self and other Burrows and Fargion are expressing a different ‘possible world’, where two ordinary looking, middle aged men can intimately engage in a complex and, at times, delicate undertaking requiring considerable skill and concentration. They are both dependent and independent at the same time. It is this interconnected unusual relation with the other, who is part of the same self/I structure, that makes the piece subversive, transgressive and radical. As Burt comments: ‘the performers’ informal, unseductive, uncharismatic presence directs attention away from the dancer towards the movement itself and the affective qualities that their movements generate’ (2003: n.p.).
These affective qualities in Both Sitting Duet are, in Deleuze’s terms, signs from which we can learn. He claims in Difference and Repetition that ‘learning takes place not in the relation between a representation and an action (reproduction of the Same) but in the relation between a sign and a response (encounter with the Other)’ (1994: 22). The affective qualities in the duet; glances between performers, pauses, the manner in which a finger is touched by another finger, or two hands smooth down jeans on thighs, all these qualities combine together to form affects that operate like signs. Like signs, in Deleuze’s terms, they ‘involve heterogeneity’ or differences within, ‘in at least three ways: first in the object which bears or emits them’ (ibid: 22). In the duet it is the combined expressivity of Burrows’s and Fargion’s performance that is the ‘object’ that ‘emits’ these signs or affects and this is heterogeneous, differentiated or individuated, because of the productive repetition within it. This productive repetition comes from the different, yet similar, appearance of the two men and from their different performance styles, evident variously depending whether they are performing the same or contrasting material. For example, Fargion initiates one combination by quite rapidly and firmly flicking over his right palm on his right knee, making a swishing sound on the denim of his jeans, it is quite forceful, almost like a reflex action out of his control. It appears to come from nowhere. Almost immediately his left palm simply turns over on his left knee to join the other. This impetus sets off Burrows. His right hand also flicks off his thigh, but with a much lighter dynamic which sends his arm gently unfolding, almost floating upwards, until it is fully extended ending with a delicate flick of the wrist and flourish of the hand. Both Fargion’s and Burrows’s eyes follow his rising arm, thus the pattern has a spatial and temporal, or rhythmic, design, which is only possible because of the combined expressivity of their differentiatied performance. Thus, as Deleuze claims, ‘learning takes place … in the relation between a sign and a response (encounter with the Other)’ (ibid) and this is in part because the signs involve difference because of the object, in this instance, Burrows and Fargion, which bears or emits them.
Secondly, signs ‘in themselves’ involve heterogeneity ‘since a sign envelops another “object” within the limits of the object which bears it, and incarnates a natural or spiritual power (an Idea)’ (ibid:22-23). This is what I mean by the layering of multiplicities within Both Sitting Duet. For me, the rapid intertwining of two hands rising and falling in front of Burrows’s face like flames, as Fargion looks on, is ‘enveloping’ more than just the movements and more than just their performance, there is an excess, which suggests something else. This is the Idea in Deleuze’s terms, an open-ended expression of another possible world. In his words, ‘Ideas’ ‘liberate it [difference] and cause it to evolve in positive systems in which different is related to different, making divergence, disparity and decentering so many objects of affirmation which rupture the framework of conceptual representation’ (ibid: 288). The excess, evident in the affective qualities in Both Sitting Duet, is sufficiently subversive, I am arguing, to ‘rupture the framework of conceptual representation’, in the senses in which such a framework limits, for example, our ideas of what relations between music and dance, or between two men, might be.
When Burrows talks about the relationship between music and dance, he asserts, ‘we all know what that relationship is, but we can’t really grasp it. We think that we dance to music. But…that’s not what I do, and I don’t think that’s what I see other people do. I see them hanging and falling always around the music, but never grasping hold of it’ (in Hutera, 2003: n.p.). ‘Hanging and falling always around the music’ and ‘never grasping hold of it’ is excessive and incarnates in Deleuze’s terms ‘an Idea’. It is an example of a different kind of relation with ‘the other’: a productive repetition involving difference that is open, expressing new possible worlds. If Burrows and Fargion grasped hold of the music, then they would be repeating the Same, in Deleuze’s terms, constrained within a way of thinking bound to representation. Burrows describes how he and Fargion tried to avoid repetition of the same when working on Both Sitting Duet by ‘trying to find a way to perform it where we’re not marching in step, not like an army going “crunch, crunch, crunch”’ (ibid).
Thirdly, Deleuze claims that the ‘signs involve heterogeneity’ ‘in the response they elicit’ which is another difference, ‘since the movement of the response does not resemble that of the sign’ (ibid: 23). Responses are rife in Both Sitting Duet, and are an important part of its affective qualities. The two performers continually respond to their own performance, to one another, to their scores and to the audience but often in a subversively unconventional manner. For example, at one point they both engage energetically in an exercise, which involves turning their torsos from side to side with elbows bent. The action looks like they are planeing wood, but whilst they begin together, in the same brisk rhythm, Fargion stops after a while and for every phrase of three or four actions that Burrows executes Fargion just does one. This has a comic effect as Burrows is using much more energy than Fargion, who looks across at Burrows totally engrossed in his performance, whilst he, Fargion, seems to be doing it the easy way. When this phrase has finished, Fargion places his hand on Burrows’ shoulder looking at him briefly as if to say ‘Relax!’ whereupon Burrows drops his arms in front of him and shakes his hands out a few times. This is repeated but the manner of the performance is totally unemotional and matter of fact. Fargion only seems to be looking towards Burrows to check where his shoulder is, not to give him any solace or support. This is an unexpected response that departs from the representational more conventional repetition of the same in Deleuze’s terms.
Deleuze gives an example of the movement of a swimmer (response) which ‘does not resemble that of the wave’ (sign). The response of the swimmer adapts to the differences in each and every wave. Burrows indicated that, in order to avoid repetition of the same - the ‘crunch, crunch, crunch’ – he and Fargion worked on the piece such that ‘the counterpoint between us is somehow in all the spaces around the marching’ (in Hutera, 2003: n.p.). By being in the spaces around the marching, the counterpoint between Burrows and Fargion, in some senses, behaves like Deleuze’s wave. It elicits a response, which imbues the ‘marching’ with difference. It avoids repetition of the same. As Deleuze argues, ‘when a body combines some of its own distinctive points with those of a wave, it espouses the principle of a repetition which is no longer that of the Same, but involves the Other – involves difference’ (1994: 23). The way counterpoint operates in Both Sitting Duet, involving a dependent independence, and as Fargion claims, assuming ‘a love between the parts’ (in Hutera, 2003: n.p.), suggests a different and productive relation with the other.
My intention in this paper has been to reveal some of the resonances I perceive exist between the philosophy of Deleuze, specifically his ideas concerning difference and repetition, and Burrows’s and Fargion’s Both Sitting Duet. I wanted to show how each can reveal something of the other. Initially I mentioned the importance of movement of thought for Deleuze, which gives his ideas particular resonances with dance. What I did not mention, but I believe has now become clear, is the conceptual nature of Both Sitting Duet which suggests resonances with philosophy. Burt suggests that Burrows’s work ‘has a lot in common with the current so-called conceptual dance in continental Europe’ (2003: n.p.). Burrows has been based in Belgium for three years which, ‘he believes gives him a better view of the waves of innovation that constantly break in European dance and art’ (Brown, 2003a: n.p.). One of the reasons Burrows gives for working in Europe is that ‘Britain, he says forcefully, is addicted to hype, which is intensely discouraging to choreographers not keen to replay old familiarities’ (Brown, 2003a: n.p.) or, in Deleuze’s terms, choreographers wishing to avoid repeating the Same. Burt suggests Both Sitting Duet has parallels with European conceptual work, because of the ways in which the performers’ ‘uncharismatic presence directs attention away from the dancer towards the movement itself and the affective qualities’ generated, and also because of the absence of the original music ‘only present in its translation into another idiom’. As a result, he claims, it ‘changes the way we think’ about the relationship between dance and music (2003: n.p.). I would add that it can also change the way we think about repetition and how that can be productive when imbued with difference. Through the ways Burrows and Fargion have played between them with repetition and difference, avoiding repetition of the Same in Both Sitting Duet, it can also change the way we think about relations with an Other. Burrows and Fargion, through their performance, have shown how the Other is the individuating or differentiating part of a self/I structure, and how our relations with another, or others, can be differentiating forces for change, as a result. In this sense I believe Both Sitting Duet and Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition have revealed something of each other and, in the process, of the Other.
Keith Ansell-Pearson has claimed of Deleuze’s work on difference and repetition that, ‘it is not so much a question of drawing something new from repetition as more a matter of making repetition a novelty, that is, liberating the will from all that binds it by making repetition the object of willing’ (1999: 98). I suggest that Both Sitting Duet also, in its plays with the gestures and looks and rhythms between two men, makes repetition a novelty. There is a sense in which these unusual, surprising and, at times, unexpected plays liberate concepts, thoughts and expectations about dance and music and about relations with the Other, from the history of representations that bind them. They do this by subversively and transgressively making repetition involve difference. This is what gives Both Sitting Duet radical potential and what enables it to help us conceive of ‘new futures’ that have, in Grosz’s terms, the potentiality to be.
Ansell-Pearson, K. (1999) Germinal Life. The difference and repetition of Deleuze. London and new York: Routledge.
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Hutera, D. (2003) ‘Both Talking’ extracts from a post-show interview with Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion in Dance Umbrella News Autumn 2003.
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A revised version of this article is now included as chapter 12 in the book 'Writing Dancing Together', written by Valerie Briginshaw and Ramsay Burt, published by Palgrave, 2009.
© V.A.Briginshaw, University College Chichester