Interview: Jonathan Burrows Q & A 2

Friday 18 April 2008

Which other choreographers do you admire?
There are a lot of extraordinary choreographers working in the world right now, but if I try to list them I’ll leave someone off that should be there, so I won’t try. Anyone who gets up and gets something together is admirable to me in a way, whether I like where they’re coming from or not or whether they succeed or not, because I know how hard it is to put yourself on the line like that. I only don’t have time for the ones whose ambition smells stronger than their passion for the thing itself.

Can you remember the first dance performance you saw?
I have a feeling it was Giselle performed by Scottish Ballet Theatre in Newcastle Theatre Royal, with Elaine MacDonald in the title role. I’ve always found ballet performances a bit claustrophobic really, but I love Giselle.

And the best?
Loftus Sword Dancers outside a pub in Northumberland when I knew they’d been drinking all afternoon, and then they got up and danced with a care towards each other and a clockwork precision that was breathtaking, and all suffused with extraordinary dignity. Any performance by the Royal Ballet of Nijinska’s Les Noces. Steve Paxton dancing The English Suite at the ICA a few years back. Cage and Cunningham’s Roaratorio at the Royal Albert Hall with The Chieftains playing live. And if it counts, any Jah Shaka dance at The Rocket in Holloway Road. It’s not strictly a performance but he’s the master at raising your focus in the most unpromising circumstances. The other week we waited until 1.30am in a neon lit hall while he had his amp in pieces and slowly fixed it, and he never got fazed. You can do that if you’ve got great material! And he lifted the roof off once the amp was fixed.

What is your favourite piece of music?

Cry Tuff Dub Encounter Chapter 2’ by Prince Far I, mixed by Prince Jammy. Like all dub reggae it starts with little and is endlessly inventive. It’s
still available on the CD ‘Dubwise’, the last 8 tracks of which are more or less
the original album.


I’d have to say The Cloud Of Unknowing written by an anonymous 14th century English priest. It’s one of the classics
of the great era of Christian mysticism but it makes so much psychological sense
even now, a real guide to shifting your perspective on things, whether you’re
religious or not.


Fellini’s Amarcord. Every time I watch it I’m afraid it won’t move me anymore, and every time I
end up weeping earlier and earlier into the movie.

What would you do if you weren’t doing this?

To be a postman is my fantasy, I knew someone once who was and he loved it, but
it’s harder to get a job there nowadays I think.

What single thing would improve your quality of life as a choreographer?

A government in the UK which understood that the joy of society now is precisely
that we all have a multiplicity of tastes from highly popular to quite obscure;
that it is possible to decide what’s good and support it; and that everyone is
intelligent enough to find their way to what they need without everything being
reduced to education.

Are you now back in London for good?

I don’t know, I’m just seeing how it goes. What’s next for you? Matteo Fargion
and I are working on a new piece now, which at the moment we call Talking To Matteo About Music. It’s a duet where he plays an Indian harmonium and speaks and I dance next
to him. We started 7 times now in the past 18 months and scrapped what we had
each time, but now we’ve got 20 minutes of something and we’ve decided to go on
with it. It opens at Kaaitheater in Brussels in March 2005.

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