Cheap Lecture and The Cow Piece
Süddeutsche Zeitung, May 18th 2010
THE RHYTHM IS THE BOSS
Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion in the Muffat Hall
The sluggishness of perception is the sad thing about the short evening with which the dancer and choreographer Jonathon Burrows and the composer Matteo Fargion enchanted the Muffat Hall. First the contents of their spoken-word performance Cheap Lecture galloped off, then we were confused by the breakneck speed with which plastic cattle were executed in The Cow Piece, by shouted words such as 'paranoia', 'shock' and 'coma', and by the simultaneous overlapping of awkward movements and knocking, whistling and clicking noises. The Cow Piece, however, is also hilariously wacky, even if one cannot determine whether or not the rhythm of the torpedo reading at the beginning comes from a prerecorded track. Furthermore, these two nice middle-aged gents have already absolved us: they assure us that we’re on the right track if our inability to follow a train of thought makes us feel desperate: because in the art of 'empty hands', only the present counts.
Burrows and Fargion are a well-rehearsed duo. Though their disparate sets of talents overlap to yield only a small intersecting set, they fortunately know how to make a virtue from this necessity. The one performer cannot dance and the other cannot make music, so they necessarily decided to do something that both can: namely, heroically
say 'yes' to minimalism. In this specific form, and for the past several years, their affirmative vote has generated startling moments when they and their audiences exclaim, 'Ooh!', and has hurled lightning bolts of sudden realization toward that which does not take place, e.g. virtuosic dance.
Take The Quiet Dance for example: already in 2005, the individualistic had surprisingly emerged from their spasmodic striving toward synchrony. This insight also flowed into the pool of mnemotechnic sentences from which Burrows and Fargion ladle ideas in Cheap Lecture, in which they rhythmically recite, chop and rap sequences of words, with and against one another, between the lines and to the accompaniment of Schubert’s music. At some point in that piece too, the audience hears the phrase 'a wall of rhythm against which our thoughts can lean'.
Ah, yes, the rhythm: they need it, they both agree, because they’re admittedly not the world’s greatest improvisers. Therefore they assemble a rhythm in the first part, which they appoint to be their boss in the second part. All this occurs without drawing distinctions: mellifluous Italian names for the cows, the noise of cows being shoved toward the edge of a table, the clunking thuds when cattle fall to the floor, the turning of the arms or a Neapolitan love song. Thus one is prompted to take a new look at the hierarchies in one’s system of concepts and values, as well as at Burrows’ definition of counterpoint as 'love between the parts'. Thoughts dance and, not without rhythm, the diaphragm dances too.