Two Fabulous Coups


By Sabina Holzer

One: Sharing time can be equally intimate as a lift
Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion come on stage and immediately start speaking into a microphone in a singing manner. They read a text which they are holding in their hands. One sheet of paper after the other drops on the floor after being read. A gentle inaudible pace in the racy tempo of the speech, the fleetingness of the words bouncing with the breath of the melody. At the back of the stage is a screen on which sometimes words appear as they are spoken. A piano is standing aside, two tables with little plastic cows on them behind the microphones.

Issues of performance are addressed, which unfold into issues of presence, communication, sharing, recognition, repetition and difference. The circular structure of the lecture reflects its content and bundles the statements into something like an extended song.

Cheap Lecture is a humorous attentive obeisance to John Cage, whose photo is projected in  a certain moment on the screen. Burrows and Fargion appropriate the poetics of Cage’s Lecture on Nothing while at the same time bending to Cheap Imitation, a composition by Cage in a collaboration with Merce Cunnigham based on one of Eric Satie’s piano pieces.[i]

These sources are mentioned and revealed in a simple and direct manner, as well as the conditions of performing and desires projected into the practice of making music and dancing. Statements like “Accepting what comes easy. Something made with ease and effortlessness.” … “Everything is stolen. Stealing from others is better than from yourself.” or “We continue with empty hands.” are juxtaposed with “The best we can, with maximum strength.” A sentence which keeps coming back like an irregular refrain, to be completed once with: “As our Yoga teacher says.”

Burrows and Fargion cause a blissful strike, a comical amazement, traveling the lines of the trivial and philosophical in a delicate way. “Sharing time can be equally intimate as a lift.” they say and without interruption lift the audience into the second part of the evening which is The Cow Piece.

Two: Mathematical Delirium

The microphones are readjusted and both performers turn towards the little plastic cows. They take another written score, laying it down at the side of their table. During the piece they keep on reading the score while executing it, following their own structure. The parallel, at times simultaneous, at times alternating actions expand in a mathematical delirium.

The cows are pushed around, lifted in the air, and shuffled off the table accompanied by fragmented words and tones of an Italian opera, folk songs, mumbled syllables, a sequence of gestures, short intermezzos played with accordion and guitar. Music and dances of love and death, of joy and loss. Which are – at the end of the day – the reason why we are doing something.

With dazzling playfulness and blunt urgency Burrows and Fargion exercise traces of experience tapping into the cultural knowledge of dance and music. Between the act of reading and the act of producing movements and sounds, solitude and interaction appear. And “Meaning”, as mentioned in the Cheap Lecture before, “is what accumulates slowly in the gaps between what we are saying and what you are hearing”, which is, in this case, stunning and ungraspable touching. Like an unexpected, inconspicuous warm squezze of hand of a best friend.


[i] Satie’s publisher, Éditions Max Eschig refused the rights to perform the piece, even though Eschig hadn’t even requested to see the transcription. Because the choreography was based on the rhythms and structure of Socrate, Cage could not simply compose a new piece of music. He decided to imitate Satie’s work in a piano solo. Cage titled the result Cheap Imitation, and Cunningham responded in kind, naming the choreography Second Hand.