Ballet Magazine, London, October 2006
By now we ought to be accustomed to the surprises the wry, spry and elegant pairing of Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion keep springing on us, but somehow we’re not; they’ve always got an extra rabbit in the hat to take us unawares. With Speaking Dance there’s a whole family of baby rabbits in that roomy hat.
Opening, they take their places on their accustomed chairs and without ado begin a fast, rhythmic dialogue consisting of the alternate words ‘Left' and 'Right' which, just as we’re drawn into their juicy, danceable rhythm, they vary with different words –‘come on’, come up’ etc; the rhythm builds, they add numbers to the words and begin clapping. Memories of Reich’s Clapping Music piece intrude here; in fact the whole pacing of their spoken words is as subtle and complex and probably as difficult as that famous piece, though Burrows and Fargion make it look easy. Throughout, the pair – soberly dressed and middle-aged - mirror each other’s movements exactly, a sort of seated, mumsy, corps de ballet.
The pace changes when Burrows – a trained dancer – stands up and to the accompaniement of Fargion’s sung words (presumably in Italian, but I wasn’t convinced), begins to move his arms in a solemn and comical approximation of the sort of movement we get from Forsythe, complete with blank yet knowing facial expressions. Piano music kicks in and the men begin to repeat the word ‘love’ with increasing speed, then pick up harmonicas and begin to blow them, not inexpertly. The highlight comes when the men start to chant something about a chicken, Burrows matching the words in exact time with rapid, rhythmic hand gestures, including a fleeting impression of a chicken opening its beak. You had to be there.
As much fun as this show was, nobody could have been unaware of the considerble artistry and musicianship underpinning it. Burrows and Fargion are two gifted and exceptional artists, and they’re probably unique. We need to treasure them.