Jonathan Burrows. The British choreographer who manages to be both wildly inspiring and absolutely disheartening, for how could I (or even you, dear reader) Ever Possibly Ever make such astounding movement happen so beautifully and so cleverly on stage? The reason I love and fear the mind of Jonathan Burrows, is it seems to have intention and clarity; two states of being that I yearn for and almost certainly lack. In short, I have a crush on the way he choreographs (which is very very well, in my opinion).
Jonathan Burrows seems to work a lot with scores (and he writes about them too in his book A Choreographer’s Handbook, a book I have mentioned before and will mention again, it is brilliant – read it immediately please). I have always been intimidated and intrigued by scores, both in dance and music. Even as a nine year old doing piano lessons, I always played by ear with my very sweet piano teacher politely trying to convince me to actually read the music. My one year of studying Benesh Notation was enough to make me permanently nauseous from anxiety regarding movement on paper. It’s strange because I like reading things. Reading is one of my favourite things, but when I see a score like this:
(Which is just one small section of the score for The Stop Quartet) – I shudder with terror and excitement. So fancy-looking and seemingly impossible. But enough about my fear and admiration of scores, The Stop Quartet (made in 1996) is one of my favourite works of choreography. (I show the first ten minutes it to all smart art friends and/or possible suitors who know little about dance in order to impress them with the beauty and seriousness of this performing art that I am so interested in, until they ask themselves, “Why didn’t I study movement? Bodies are clearly the only thing we really own.” They never ask this question but I like to think this piece impresses them nontheless.)
The film was made by Adam Roberts, with music by Matteo Fargion. Burrows writes about The Stop Quartet on his website over here and you can read more about the structure and the process, which was based on a similar idea to his shorter film Hands (which I’ve already written about here.) The thing about this piece, is even though the movement has been quite deliberately choreographed and structured, it comes across as so exquisitely organic and natural. The stops and pauses are in no way dramatic or loaded with angst but still manage to be meaningful or at least thoughtfully acknowledged. The loose-ness of the movement vocabulary combined with the stern lines of the floor pattern and the subtle, understated choreographic structure gives such a thrilling combination of such tight choreography on such loose dancers. This balance is admirable and more difficult to achieve than one would think.
There is another aspect of this piece that I love regarding the way in which it was filmed and edited. My Token Film Friend, who is very smart and knowledgable about films, briefly gave me some editing lessons once upon a time. Amongst the many things he pointed out, one of them was about jump cuts (I think this is the right term? I was not the best of students.) When you cut from one scene to another, the eye is somehow not surprised to be taken quickly from one angle to a massively different angle or perspective. A drastic leap from one scene to another does not upset us. However, when you jump to another shot and the difference is very small or slight, or you jump to an almost similar angle, it becomes quite unsettling to the eye and can even be quite disturbing or menacing.
In the film, the camera is slowly panning across the minimal scene from one angle but it sometimes jumps to another slightly altered angle of the same scene, a very small difference but this seems to shake up the whole piece. It gives you a little start, jolts you out of the slowness and makes you wonder ‘What was that?’. It’s a subtle but powerful feature of the film, I feel. This is becoming very difficult to explain and I fear you are already becoming uninterested so you can rather simply watch the whole piece on YouTube. It is a 45 minute piece and at times it can be quite demanding, but you should at least try watch the first ten minutes RIGHT NOW and you’ll see what I mean about the small jump cuts and how they shake up the whole film in the most beautiful way: