Weak Dance Strong Questions
with Daniela Perazzo Domm
Daniela Perazzo Domm: I would like to know about the idea behind Weak Dance Strong Questions with Jan Ritsema. How was it conceived?
Jonathan Burrows: When Jan and I started working we hadn’t decided that we would make a dance piece. We got together in Jan’s house in France and we began by talking and reading, but at a certain point, during the second day I think, Jan was keen that we didn’t get stuck talking, he thought we should start moving, so I suggested to him that he should move as though he would always ask a question. That wasn’t something that I had tried before. The reason I said this to Jan was because I wanted to allow him a way to be really clear about what he was doing when moving, but without giving him an order or a particular movement or manoeuvre. And Jan is a thinker and is engaged a lot with his mind, so I suppose this task to move as though he would always ask a question was a way for me to connect his body to his mind, so that he was able to work from where he is and how he is as a person. As soon as he did it, it was very clear that there was something quite specific that happened, and then of course I did it and he watched and he thought the same looking at me.
After that we went on working and tried many different ways to find something to do with this idea. For instance, we tried a similar way of working but to do with speaking, but this was much more difficult because a question, when you speak, is always concrete, whereas what we realised about the movement is that, when you ask a question through movement, it’s a about a state of questioning; it’s not a concrete question. So it’s not, ‘Where is my arm now?’ – I mean, it can be that, but it can also be a state of questioning which could either be a general doubting or a general looking for possibilities. We also had been reading a lot the T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets(1)
, and I think what came out of them was something to do with how we decided to work with time and space in the piece. What we decided to do with time and space was that we could really free ourselves from the normal way that you work with time and space in a choreography. In other words, we decided that we would try to make no decisions about time and no decisions about space. That came a little bit from Katy Duck, who has been involved in improvisation for a long time, and whom I have had a small connection with; she once talked to me about not negotiating space and time.
DPD: What does it mean exactly?
JB: It means that when I would be moving in the state of questioning, I wouldn’t think, ‘Now I’ve moved slowly for a bit, so I should move fast; now I was over here for a long time, so I should go over there.’ But we tried just to go on being in a state of questioning until the time of it changed and the space of it changed. And we were videoing all the time and we saw that it did change. And I think that the Eliot had some influence on that because the Four Quartets
are a meditation on the impossibility of perceiving and articulating time and space. But anyway, the more we worked the less we found anything, other than this thing itself of moving in a state of questioning. Nothing we tried seemed to add anything. We had only these three ideas: one was to move in the state of always asking a question; the second was not to negotiate time and space; and the third was to be connected to the other person.
Being connected to the other person was carried out in a number of different ways, we had a number of different ideas: one was to feel the other person on your skin all the time, another was to pass every question through the other person, and the other was not to watch the dance that you are doing but to hear the dance that’s happening that is a combination of the two dances, so to hear the rhythm that’s in the middle, between the two people. Listening to this rhythm makes you less afraid of what you are doing and it makes you feel less responsible that you have to do something interesting, and then it’s more likely that something interesting happens. So by this time we were still looking for things, we were singing, we were speaking, we were using text, but at the same time we were rehearsing twenty-minute runs of just this strange, ‘empty’ duet.
DPD: Repeating it or finding new material every time?
JB: There’s no material, in a way. There’s only the idea to move as though you would ask a question. Having said that, we videoed it every time that we did it, and it always was the same piece.
DPD: In terms of the intentions of the actions performed?
JB: Even in terms of the way it looked. And I think that made for a particular continuity, so that, because we are in a state of questioning, nothing is ever allowed to be finished, or resolved or answered. So each thing has gone before it’s finished and then the next thing is in its place. And that gives it even a particular style, I would say; mine is slightly different to Jan’s, but still recognisably the same thing. So the idea became very distinctly the material. The work that I normally make is more like Both Sitting Duet
: highly structured, and highly musical: even writing the score down. And I had never worked before the way that I did with Weak Dance Strong Questions
. But what I noticed about it was that, because of this strange continuity when nothing ever landed and because we didn’t make decisions about time and space, if we concentrated hard enough on the job that we had given ourselves, the thing choreographed itself moment by moment. So for me Weak Dance Strong Questions
has a very strong structure but it’s a structure of ‘moment by moment.’ Both Sitting Duet
has a structure that starts at the beginning and goes right through to the end, and it’s a very clear whole structure, of the whole piece. In Weak Dance Strong Questions
the structure is only in this moment-by-moment change.
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 ethos.bl.uk. Free registration and download.Notes
1) See Jonathan Burrows and Jan Ritsema (2003), ‘Weak Dance Strong Questions’, Performance Research 8, 2, June, pp. 28-33 (p. 31).