Jonathan Burrows Group The Jonathan Burrows Group presents Very for its ﬁrst Scottish performance. It forms an individual portion of a small. interesting and select palette of companies coming from Canada. France. Germany. London and Edinburgh. The group. much talked of since its formation in 1988. has presented four full-length works: Hymns ( 1988). dull morning ( I989). Sloies ( l99 l ) and Very ( l992). Burrows. an ex-Royal Ballet soloist who specialised in character roles has. like many ballet choreographers working in a contemporary idiom. rid himself of his classical vocabulary. His early work employed a certain quality of everyday movement — gestural. mundane and similar to that of the popular work of Lea Anderson of the (‘holmondeleys and Featherstonehaughs fame.
Smies. a humorous duet about the modern male condition. received rave reviews. The story goes that when it was performed at the Royal Opera House in London. the conservative ballet audience. not known for its support of new work. on seeing for the first time this quirky. idiosyncratic language. found the content funny and the movement hilarious. In Belgium it was equally well received. but the audiences didn‘t think it funny. There is something immensely English about Burrows’s work.
Very is painfully English — stiff upper- lipped in the face of adversity. analytical. controlled and polite. The movement. pared down. angular. intense. angst-ridden and understated. is beautifully performed by Lynne Bristow and Deborah Jones. dancers who left the Royal to work alongside Burrows. The performance has the feel of a court concert—restrained. formal and precise. This effect is underscored by the music which is performed live by Matteo Fargion. on a raised plinth. giving a sense of period and primness. These original songs are given a dry. straight-faced. off-key. yearning rendition.
The whole programme. while unemotional. is strangely poignant. The impression is of someone who has dug deep into their personal experiences. picked off the scabs and distilled their blood. (Rosina Bonsu)
Very. RSAMI). Glasgow. Tue 2 -Wed 4 May.
V NEW PLAY
Stephen Chester gets to grips with the chimneys and guttering of Station House Opera.
So maybe it isn't the best question to ask a performance artist. But then the press release doesn‘t help much: ‘a spectacular construction of pipes. ceramic chimneys. plastic guttering and
giant stainless steel tubes . . . a world of
pipes that is shaped by the movements within them — torrents of language. sound. light. gas - into a changing mass of suitcases. beds. tables and chairs. frameworks and objects on wheels or armatures.‘
So what‘s it about then‘.’
‘Do you think art has to be about something.”
At this point it's fair to say the interview is not going well. And I'm still 591 words short of a preview.
Thankfully Julian Maynard Smith. founder of Station House Opera and director of The Oracle. isn't content just to back down artistic heresies with a sharp retort. and after a few elongated seconds. mercifully adds. ‘lt‘s much easier to say what it is. than to say what it's about.‘
‘The whole performance is concerned with the use of tubes. The large tubes form a pipeline of about 30 metres long. All the time there are sounds or words or music being passed through these shapes. You start off with a babble of voices. each of which has a story to tell. But because they’re laid
Station House Opera
over each other a different sense comes out of the end. Then they 're dismantled and transformed and taken away. so that the performers progress along the pipeline and the attdience is required to follow the action. It‘s like a journey of growing tip. or learning how to deal
‘We’re not coming from a
theatrical tradition, we’re
approaching this as visual artists.’
with language. because as one gets nearer the source. through the pipeline. so the sophistication of the language is
left behind. I‘m talking very abstractly.’
At this point things. albeit abstract things. are becoming are lot clearer. Until. that is. Julian tells me the Aztec
Story: ‘The gods were animals who sat on thrones and talked to their subjects. When the conquistadores came. these gods stopped talking and gave out nothing but white noise. Eventually when the people went to their gods. the thrones were empty and the gods gone.‘
And while l’m still trying to work out what the Aztec story is about. Julian is explaining why it‘s pertinent to The Oracle. ‘lt‘s to do with language and control within an area of knowledge and what are the limits of that area. You’re asking me what it's about - I don't know. it's about sculpture as much as anything else. We‘re not coming from a theatrical tradition. we're approaching this as visual artists. These conduits of information take on forms themselves. Just like the media. which has a form which effects its message.'
Right. Time to play the ‘l.et’s Move Swiftly ()n' question: why the subtitle. Beeause We 're Here'.’
'lt's the answer to the question “Why are we here?" '
So then it's time for the ‘()bvious But I'm Desperate’ question: is it theatre or performance art or what'.’
‘The main drift of the performance is not theatrical — it‘s not about characters in a situation because the characters are the same as the performers. But I do think it’s a theatrical experience in that it evokes stories. predicaments and situations.
‘The overall shape of it will be similar from performance to performance. but each night will be different in a way that traditional theatre isn't — you’ll find yourself in a different place with a different problem at a different time. That's half the ethic of it. to present performers with a problem which they then have to deal with — it’s not acting. it‘s doing.‘
And that‘s what it’s all about. Or just what it is. (Stephen Chester)
The Oracle (Because We 71’ Here). Centre/or ('ontentpmtu‘y Arts. Glasgow. l-‘ri 3!) Apr --Mon 3 May.
Words and pictures
It was Claniamfrie’s Emma Davie who brought up the ‘P’ word. ‘There’s always that lingering word “pretentious” hanging over what we do, but I think it’s better to stick your neck out and be called pretentious than to be doing the same sort of thing that people have been doing for centuries.’
Such are the occupational hazards of performance groups, and it’s a statement of the power of Claniamfrie’s work that it has earned heaps of superlatives in a critical field strewn with the lazily tossed sneers of ‘preclous onanism’.
Clanlamfrle’s latest piece, Somewhere . . . , is the closest it has come to traditional theatre, using characters and some narrative for the first time in its four-year history. Based upon fairy tales, the piece continues the group’s investigations
into identity and perspective.
‘lt’s not the kind of show that comes up with any clearly defined notion of how to look at something,’ explains Davie, ‘it’s more about a multiplicity of perspectives. We build up a succession of images to give a sense of an emotional journey. It’s quite
Clanlamfrie sticks out its neck
difficult to describe in words because the whole point of the work is to try to articulate a nonverbal feeling and experience, hence it’s easier for us to promote ourselves with pictures than with words.’ (Stephen Chester) Somewhere, Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, Mon 3—Sat 8 May.
16 The List 23 April—6 May 1993