Text annotations to the interview

In a nearly one hour long interview Burrows explains the way in which he works with scores, giving mostly examples from his choreographies: the film choreography Hands (1995), The Stop Quartet (1996), Both Sitting Duet (2002). Hands, made for television in 1995, for the BBC/Arts Council, was the first time Jonathan worked with a score. However, The Stop Quartet, a piece for four dancers made in 1996, is the first score discussed here.

00:00:15 00:00:23

Jonathan Burrows introduces the principles of The Stop Quartet.

00:00:23 00:01:53

Matteo Fargion assisted Burrows in making the score for The Stop Quartet. One of the other musical collaborators for that piece, Kevin Volans, had introduced them to a scored way of working by Shobana Jeyasingh, a South Indian choreographer, based in London, who previously worked with Volans. Burrows is interested in Jeyasinghs method to use graph pahper, but when trying to compose in a similar way he “ran into a mess” and with the help of Matteo he then used another related notational system based on an African method of notating rhythm systems.

“So I tried to work on graph paper when I was starting to work on The Stop Quartet and I really ran into a mess and I got really confused. Although I could sense the germ of something that was going to be interesting but it got way too complicated. Having worked for a month or something I went back to Matteo and showed him this stuff on graph paper, which he simplified (…) This score here is what Matteo suggested that I try to work with and according to him it has some connection with how African rhythmic systems are written down. You have a line who represents one person playing, and you have a mark on the line which respresents when the sound is played.”


In the course of the creation Burrows develops his notation into a more graphic visualization of the rhythm. He finds it a problem that the only clear way to foreground rhythm is by using footsteps (The Stop Quartet) or punctuated gestures (Both Sitting Duet), but this apparent visualization of rhythm can become less clear when the whole body is implied.


At first, the score is used as a preparation before joining rehearsals with the dancers.


Burrows and Myriam Van Imschoot try to decipher the score that they are holding in their hands.

00:05:06 00:06:42

The score of The Stop Quartet applies to the whole body, but in this piece the feet are primary. Burrows explains how visual rhythm works for him: in order to read the rhythm you need a strongly defined downbeat, best provided by the feet.

“In a way Both Sitting Duet and the problem with the Stop Quartet was that I could never make a satisfactory piece afterwards that went on from here, because it could only be ever be this, footsteps. I mean that was how the Stop Quartet worked, and it worked like that but if I make another piece it would be the same piece. So Both Sitting duet is kind of the same thing, but the visual rhythm can be evident because it has to do with clearly punctuated gestures, which was an other way to do it. But whenever I tried to do it using the whole body the rhyhtm disappears, you know. Then you need to find the rhythm somewhere else, in the sound that is accompanying it or something that you might speak or sing or something.“

00:06:42 00:10:47

The Stop Quartet is discussed even more in detail. It’s sections, length, number of dancers, etc.


Burrows explains why scores are useful. In general, Burrows atttributes several useful reasons to work with scores. It’s a way to prepare in a clear and complex way for rehearsal. Although Burrows hasn’t been working as such with dancers for ten years now, he describes his memory of that moment of working in the studio with other people as potentially filled with anxiety, because there are always moments when you don’t know what to do, and the presence of the others can be blocking. “This was just a way for me to prepare.”

00:11:31 00:14:02

The second reason is to proceed more quickly in the sequential composition. One can overcome the need to memorize something first physically before one moves on.

“Both sitting duet – in terms of working with the score - was similar. I would say often to Matteo “we better go back and over this because we don’t know, we will forget it” and he would say “no, let’s keep going on, because if we keep going on then we are moving now, and if we go back we will get stuck thinking too hard what we are doing”. It’s not that what we were doing was arbitrary. It isn’t about arbitrariness. The principles that we were working with in Both Sitting Duet and the Stop Quartet were clearly researched, thought out and researched physically as well. By the time we set off with this way of working that allowed for a certain innocence, we were confident enough about the principles that we had found to take our hands of them. It’s not that we went forward blindly.”

00:14:02 00:16:50

A third (related) reason is to avoid holding onto an image, when performing a piece. You tap directly into the conditions of production (more than focusing on the desired result). Scores makes one not reproduce the image one has of performing something, but going back to the score one can always retap into the conditions of the movement production.

“Suddenly we started performing the image. And that’s only the image of it, not the thing itself. We had to work quite hard to find ways away from the image. It’s the audience who is privileged to see the image, not the performer. When the performer tries to hard to get hold of the image, the thing that is happening is often gone. So for me working with scores in dance is about avoiding the trap of the image of the thing becoming dominant rather than the thing itself. The score allows this ability to put the thing into a different kind of information that can then be put aside and retrieved, and if I don’t have that, the act of memorizing the thing seals the image and then the image itself can trap me. I think this is also a personal thing, about me and how I work. There must be people who work brillliantly with the image itself. Different things work for different people.”

00:16:50 00:18:06

Burrows considers doing The Stop Quartet again, and reflects on the function of the score so many years later.

00:18:32 00:21:21

Myriam goes back to an earlier point in the interview and asks whether the dancers would ever get the scores or work with them? Burrows says he can’t remember but after relistening to this interview in 2011 he adds: The dancers in The Stop Quartet did initially work directly with the scores, it was a shared resource rather than a private tool for him as a choreographer. However, as the piece developed and the scores became more complex, then sometimes they didn’t pause to catch everyone up as to how the scores were working, but rather communicated in whichever way was most useful for that moment. In other words the score remained a practical thing, rather than a rigid methodology.

00:18:57 00:21:21

A score is a usefull tool for communicating the rhythm visually and it can then be performed physically more easily. Burrows illustrates this by singing a score.

00:21:21 00:22:54

Myriam goes back to an earlier point in the interview where they discussed the scores of Shobana Jeyasingh. She asks why Burrows didn’t include her scores in the article he wrote for a graphic publishing magazine. Myriam explains the visual characteristics of the scores that will be selected for the publication of Multitudes.

00:22:54 00:25:16

More explanation about certain symbols in the scores of Burrows.

00:25:18 00:28:06

The concept of The Stop Quartet was to layer sound, light, movement. There are holes in the layers which allow one element to pierce through the other. The principle was also used for the film version. Myriam refers to the peeping hole quality of the film. Burrows says this was not the prior motivation: it was more about looking for ways to find equal weight between different mediums within the performance, so that the watcher would be able to read through and between the counterpoints of movement, music, light and film.


Burrows does not always work with scores, but when he does “it’s more to clarify the principles of a piece” and “to communicate with his collaborators”. Since The Stop Quartet he has found many other ways to work.

At the time when the interview was conducted he was working with Matteo Fargion on The Quiet Dance (2005), at a moment in the process when the two were trying to keep their hands empty to see what might also be possible. Unlike The Stop Quartet or Both Sitting Duet, The Quiet Dance was not written first and realised afterwards, but rather physicalised first and then recorded as a score later.


Burrows draws here another useful distinction: there’s scores to describe what already exists and those who help you to arrive at what you don’t know yet what it’s going to be. “By finding principles of how to work and how to organize those thoughts on paper you might arrive at something you don’t know what it’s going to be and how it will manifest itself. It allows you to work with deeper principles of the thing.”

Discussing the interview more recently Burrows adds (2011): “For me, one pleasure of a score is to come back to the body with information which the body must figure out, in the process of which you momentarily break habitual patterns. The only thing I am wary about in relation to scores, is when they become too much an object, something fetished as though they are special beyond the piece itself.”


Myriam refers to a quote of Lisa Nelson and how she values scores when they set up the terms for possible sets of relationships (rather than a score just being a sequence of tasks). It’s about what is emerging more than how one obeys prescribed sequent tasks. Burrows explains he works sequentially, but although sequence is still very dominant, he looks for what Lisa Nelson points out.


Burrows speaks about freedom in a score (cf. quote)


More information on signs and symbols used in a score by Burrows. Coming back to a score after all this time, Burrows sometimes has forgotten what a particular notation means.


Myriam goes back to an earlier point of the interview where Burrows spoke about the function of a score as a way to prepare for rehearsals. “You need some way to think about what you are going to do, before you go into rehearsal”. Burrows quotes Kevin Volan. He continues to say how the process of working with Jan Ritsema allowed him a different relation to preparation, moving beyond scores to a more conceptualised approach based on finding strong principles for working.


Comments on the score of Hands (1995), the scoring of which was done by Matteo Fargion. Burrows explains the process.


Burrows describes the unrealized plan to make an installation with four televisions on the basis of Hands. “We worked for a month or so, we made the installation, and we thought it wasn’t just quite right.” The score that was published in the graphic magazine was in fact prepared for this unrealised installation.


Practical arrangements to get the scores, what to publish.


Discussion of a detail in Both Sitting Duet: the prescribed moments of watching one another, or the ‘meeting points’ to install a humanity.


The scores of Both Sitting Duet ended up being used in the performance as they were made during rehearsals. Burrows explains how movement memory and the (reading of the) score interrelate in peformance. The interview abruptly stops - end of the minidisc.


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00:02:27 00:38:52

One of the pages from the score of The Stop Quartet

This score shows part of the opening duet of the piece. Further pages and more detailed information about The Stop Quartet can be found on Jonathan Burrows’ website.

00:25:16 00:28:06

Video fragment The Stop Quartet

00:44:50 00:47:39

Version two of the score of Hands, a film made by Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargeon and Adam Roberts in 1994.

The image was first published in the essay Time, Motion, Symbol, Line (Eye Magazine, 2000)

00:49:54 00:51:30

Two scores of Both Sitting Duet, one by Matteo Fargion and one by Jonathan Burrows

00:52:41 00:54:00

Video fragment Both Sitting Duet

EXTRA: Essay by Jonathan Burrows, ‘Time, Motion, Symbol, Line’ (2000)

Pictures that accompany the essay

Notes Rosemary Butcher

(3) A page from the notebook of choreographer Rosemary Butcher, showing preparatory time and space drawings for her 1999 piece scan. Rough notes like these help visualise texture and keep track of the process.