Cheap Lecture and The Cow Piece
The Guardian, London, 14th October 2010
'We'd make work like Pina Bausch if we could,' says Jonathan Burrows, 'But this is what we're good at.' As their 2009 piece called Cheap Lecture demonstrates, what he and Matteo Fargion are brilliant at is turning the eccentricities of their shared creative world into irresistible theatre.
The idea for the piece, they tell us, was initially stolen from John Cage. Taking off from Cage's inspired logic of subversion, the two men deliver a performance that's neither dance, music nor even a lecture. It's a 40-minute standup set in which they talk in fast, rhythmic, musically shaped phrases about the nature of composition, the mysteries of theatrical time and space, and the complicity between audience and performer. Some of it is startlingly wise, some of its preposterously funny, and all of it
effortlessly transcends pretension. There are few performers who can hold an audience captive like this double act – Burrows with his terrier intellect snapping at the heels of Fargion's comic, Italianate dolour.
In their second offering, The Cow Piece, they veer off into wilder ranges of fantasy. They stand behind tables, laid out with 12 model cows, and start weaving 'stories' around them. Fargion croons out their names in Italian, plays war games and serenades them. Burrows enacts their fate in ballet mime, a Morris dance and an old cockney song.
It's all wildly, unclassifiably bonkers – postmodern music hall or performance art in a house of mirrors or a tower of Babel. But the timing of every note, shrug, laugh and gesture is awesome. The nonsense has a shining clarity.