Interview on
The Stop Quartet
with Daniela Perazzo Domm
London, 2006

Daniela Perazzo Domm: One of the things that interest me the most about The Stop Quartet is to do with its composition – its fabric, the layers of which the piece is composed, the tensions between structure and freedom it appears to embody. I’m also trying to explore and question the link between your work and artistic modes that can be described as abstract and minimalist.

Jonathan Burrows: When I began to think about making The Stop Quartet, the first thought was about working with Henry Montes. I have a sense that, with almost all work, really the most important decision you make is who you work with. In the case of The Stop Quartet, in many ways the whole physicality of it comes from Henry. I’ve now kind of learnt it off him, or absorbed it from what he was doing, to the point that it has become very much part of how I move, but I think a lot of it came from Henry.

The other idea that I had was related to the fact that Matteo Fargion, Adam Roberts and I had made the Hands film. When I was choreographing it, Matteo had encouraged me to work with a metronome; he had been instrumental in composing the choreography of the first part of Hands and had used a metronome himself. What he felt was that using a metronome kept me a little bit calmer, because my tendency is – which is very evident in Stoics – to go incredibly fast, to try and make everything interesting by going very very fast. Funnily enough, The Stop Quartet did end up very fast, but with Hands Matteo wanted this kind of calmer pace, and somehow, if you can find that, it can become just as exciting as something that’s moving very fast. The other thing about Hands was that I was beginning to work with counterpoint between the right hand and the left hand. But since Hands was only four and a half minutes long, it seemed that this idea of working with a metronome, this idea of counterpoint and the idea that I explored in the piece of building basic blocks of movements which then, when they are combined, become something completely different from what you would have imagined – all of that business seemed quite unfinished with after Hands.

So these were the conditions that generated the starting points for going into the studio with Henry. The first one, the most important, was: what if Henry is the right hand and I’m the left hand? The next one was: what if we really use a pulse from a metronome, so that we are not making free flowing movement phrases, but we are making something which has at its heart a beat? And then the other thing was that, whereas in previous pieces, especially Our, I tried really hard to find interesting movements, to push the boundaries of the movement, to be a bit extreme and a bit virtuosic, when Henry and I started to work on what became The Stop Quartet, I was following more the new line of work that came from Hands. Here everything started from six hand gestures that were just static; then Matteo put them in an order and then eventually I ended up, in the second part of the Hands film, going through that order of six gestures but so fast and with so many changes that it suddenly looked like a really complicated language. So my question was: can Henry and I find a way to do that with our whole bodies – rather than how we’d worked on Our, which was more about trying to find some kind of physical expression, technicality and virtuosity by improvising and by having visual ideas and so forth? I got a sense, when we worked on Hands, that you could do it in a different way and it would arrive at something that you couldn’t imagine, that would be very unexpected, to the point that you wouldn’t be able to see how you had done it.

So about the question of the way in which some sense of ideas of minimalism comes into what I do, I never want to call it minimalism, because I always think that, physically, I’m trying to do something as rich as possible, especially at that time. Perhaps The Quiet Dance is possibly the most minimal piece, but even that, for how it changes, I would think of it as rich. And I always wonder what would happen if you dressed The Stop Quartet up in colourful clothing and had very loud rock music, changing sets and flashing lights… I don’t know, I’ve always wondered if the fact that people feel that what I’m doing is minimal is more to do with how I want to concentrate on the thing itself and not dress it. But at the same time I do love things which you don’t question and which seem to be very effective, but which are made of simpler ingredients. But with The Stop Quartet, since we were taking this idea of exploring what would be the equivalent of the hand gestures in Hands which became a blur of movement, we were using really simple elements, and in a way you couldn’t break movement down more than we broke it down. So that gives it a certain feeling of something stripped back which then arrives at a flight via a different route. But the idea of ‘less is more’ doesn’t really underpin my way of thinking.

DPD: I think the difference lies also in the fact that your work is not about putting on stage a concept or an idea that has formed in your mind, but it’s about working with the material that you have chosen and finding things through working with it.

JB: Yes, that’s really a good way of putting it.

DPD: About the relationship with the audience in this piece: with Both Sitting Duet, for example, which to a certain extent has a similar way of working to The Stop Quartet, spectators have come to you to say things such as, ‘I could hear the music’ and so on, which shows that they could get beyond the ‘formal’ appearance of the piece. Did you have that kind of relationship with the audience of The Stop Quartet or did you feel that it was more difficult for them to leave the formal aspects of the piece behind?

JB: No, it was beginning, because we had the principle of performing ‘how you feel is what you do.’ So if something makes you laugh you laugh, if you are angry you let that tension go through your movement: you stay alive with the thing that’s happening, and therefore with the audience. And the audience did use to laugh at The Stop Quartet; there were quite a lot of things that made the audience laugh in The Stop Quartet, especially when Henry and I would laugh, and the more we performed it the more playful it got. The trio was more sombre and the quartet was more sparkling, but, especially in the opening moments of the duet, the audience would laugh, so that kind of communication was beginning to develop.

Extract from Perazzo Domm, Daniela. Dancing Poetry: Jonathan Burrows' reconfiguration of choreography. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Surrey, 2007.

The full text of this thesis can be downloaded in PDF format from Free registration and download.

© Daniela Perazzo Domm 2007