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Flash Review 2, 6-10: Burrowing
Jonathan Burrows Sits and Dances

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- The great thing about imaginative dancemaking is that it reminds you not just of the possibilities of the body in motion, but of the potentialities of life. I emerged from the French premiere of Jonathan Burrows's "Both Sitting Duet" Friday at the Menagerie de Verre in a veritable glow, my world expanded, its walls tumbling down. Though Burrows and composer Matteo Fargion are sitting down for most of the dance, in the expansive kinetic mind of Jonathan Burrows, this condition is anything but a restriction.

"Challenge" is a better word, and the over-riding challenge Burrows sets himself here is provided by the man sitting next to him in the subterranean, low-ceilinged theater of the menagerie. I mentioned Fargion is a composer, but his role here is not to make music. As with Jan Ritsema in 2001's "Weak Dance, Strong Questons," reviewed here earlier, Burrows has chosen a non-dancer partner to accompany him on this expedition. He does this on purpose, he explained to me after the show, because, if I understood correctly, it means he has to know what he's about. Not that the performance sacrifices anything by way of expression. For if Fargion is meant to be the stand-in for the pedestrian, he's a ringer of a pedestrian at that. Like Ritsema, though he may not be a dancer, he is a performance artist, meaning he knows how to express himself.

If the non-dancer partner serves the choreographer by making him understand his own system, he serves the audience by standing in for us. Next to the compact, fluid and precise Burrows, the rounder, balder, less articulate man is the figure the non-dancers in the audience can viscerally relate to.

Which is not to say Burrows is making a visceral excavation here. Most of all, what I thought watching this dance was how often 'dance' is restricted to movement involving the legs. We don't call it "Leg Dancing," but sometimes it might as well be, with much dance, particularly ballet, relying on the expression and impulsion of the legs and feet. At the outset of "Both Sitting Duet," it appears Burrows is simply going to substitute one pair of digits for another, most of the action centering on the performers' arms and hands -- opening up as if to present something, fingers tip-'toe'ing on the knees or counting off numbers, shoulders backward rolling, arms relaxing. At one point Burrows seems to get annoyed with his hands, regarding them with pursed lips in the perturbed British fashion.

But then other axis of the body start to compel its motion. The two men rise up to the knees, their thighs propelling them, then slowly sit again.

There's personal exchange also; Burrows makes as if to clap, arresting his hands at the last moment, Fargion vocalizing the sound of their impact.

About a third of the way into the 50-minute dance, both men begin perspiring steadily. This is from the physical activity, but there's also a low-purring almost-fear sensation, as they constantly look to the floor as if checking the status of an important project with serious consequences that cannot be fucked up. And an important project it is -- it's the score, as Burrows explained to me later.

It's not every day one sees dancers working with a printed score onstage. But then, it's not every day one sees a choreography as rigorous and complex as Jonathan Burrows's "Both Sitting Duet." Not a dance to be performed with the mind sitting down.

Paul Ben-Itzak is the editor-in-chief and chief executive officer of the Dance Insider. He only plays a dancer on the dance floor.

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