writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

The Theater of the Mundane

Both Sitting Duet
Jonathan Burrows/Matteo Fargion
The Kitchen
New York, NY
March 12, 2004

by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2004 by Leigh Witchel

Jonathon Burrows and Matteo Fargion remained planted in their chairs almost the entire piece, and yet we saw dance. Of a sort.

It was a minimal evening. Two chairs on the stage. The men came out in their street clothes, casual shirts and jeans. The lights came on and when they were turned off seemingly without warning 45 minutes later, they were done. What happened in between was almost all arm movements. Most were repetitive actions, scooping, folding and counting. A few swirled and boldly hyperextended the arms and hands as if the two were temple dancers.

The men sat slightly apart from one another, watching each other for cues. Most movements were done in unison, a few antiphonally, and occasionally with different gestures that started to develop into a conversation. The dialogue without words made one think as much of silent movies as of mime. The doggedness of the action was from the factories of Chaplin’s Modern Times but the men’s hangdog expressions recalled Buster Keaton. It was tempting to read national stereotypes into the gesticulation. Even without sounds, Fargion “talked” with forceful movements like an Italian.

Filled with pointless, mundane tasks of inexplicable insistence and urgency, the work held a certain fascination, but the most interesting aspect was its artifice. The pauses for thought as if to think up the next set of gestures were actually choreographed. Each man had a spiral bound notebook of the “score” placed in front of their chairs waiting for them and left behind when they exited. People walked on stage to examine them afterwards. Each man had a different notation system, but both were in English involving numbers and a nickname for each movement.

The Kitchen is a small venue to begin with and the stage manager requested that the audience take seats as close as comfortable to take full advantage of the intimacy of the piece. Someone had to get up at one point to relieve a coughing fit. In an accidentally compelling moment, Burrows followed the person’s movements, smiling and even with a sort of nervous laughter. How odd for the audience to have the sense of being the watched rather than the watcher.

Fargion is not a dancer, but a composer; Burrows was trained at the school of the Royal Ballet and entered the company in 1979. You could see both their training in the rhythms of the piece. In a more direct moment towards the end Burrows broke into basic ballet port de bras, accompanied first by Fargion’s clapping, then syncopated off it.

The differentiation in force and rhythm was so minimal in the piece that the smallest build became magnified. When both men stood up and stamped their feet towards the end or when they spoke single syllables, “yum” or “hey”, the contrast was massive as if the event was momentous. Burrows’ moving his chair behind Fargion’s to make four-armed sculptures threatened to be climactic.

Even in its planning, Both Sitting Duet felt loosely conceived. It’s not meant to be a mainstream work, but for most theatergoers, is this enough reason to go to the theater? If you go to see something more than your own life’s details, to see what humanity could aspire to, for all the work that went into it, the theater of the mundane will inevitably be unsatisfying.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 11
March 15, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Leigh Witchel



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The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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last updated on January 11, 2004