Syncopated Rhythms in the Work of Burrows and Fargion

Jonas Rutgeerts

conference: DARE 2017: aberrant nuptials
date: November 20, 2017
venue: Orpheus Institute, Penthouse
format: in words
practice: performance
keywords: Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargion, rhythm

abstract about the author(s)


In 2002 choreographer/dancer Jonathan Burrows and composer/musician Matteo Fargion decided to create Both Sitting Duet, a choreography where they are both equally involved. The piece marked the start of a long- lasting  collaboration  that has, until  now,  resulted  in  the  creation  of eight  short  duets that all “straddle the line between dance, music, performance art and comedy” (Burrows). What characterises all these pieces is that the different elements that are brought together (music, movements, scores . . .) never add up. Rather, they run parallel and keep their own heterogeneous operational logic and quality. In the pieces of Fargion and Burrows, the music and the score, the movement and the sound, the two performers and so on never really come together. As such, the performances of Burrows and Fargion don’t create a harmony—as in a Gesamtkunstwerk. Rather, both performers always search for “impossible moments to meet in the middle” (Burrows and Fargion). Here the middle should not be understood as a middle ground, but as a no man’s land or a space of difference, a meantime (entre-temps) that makes the components “communicate through zones of indiscernibility, or undecidability” (Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?).

By looking at the notion of rhythm this presentation sets out to explore how Fargion and Burrows create these specific “meetings in the middle.” More specifically, it aims to connect the concept of rhythm that is operational in the practice of Burrows and Fargion with the notion of rhythm that Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari develop in AThousand Plateaus. In this book, Deleuze and Guattari define rhythm as that which unfolds “in-between” heterogeneous milieus and ties them together. Burrows and Fargion seem  to  bring  this  conceptualisation  into  practice. To  do  this  they  trade a traditional “divisive” approach to composition, in which the whole is divided into standard units of measurement, for an “additive” approach, in which heterogeneous patterns are played out simultaneously to (per)form a polymetric dialogue (Davis, “‘Roots and Wires’: Polyrhythm Cyberspace and the Black Electronic”). Rather than fusing  the  different  patterns  into  a  unified  structure, Burrows  and  Fargion adopt a strategy of “apart-playing,” which has already been developed  in  African  and Black Atlantian musical theory (Chernoff, African Rhythm  and African  Sensibility). The rhythm that emerges through this separated playing diverts from its traditional definition. Rather than referring to a primal or natural means of communication—a “medium of communal participation” (Cowan, Technology’s Pulse: Essays on Rhythm in German Modernism)—rhythm introduces a dimension of difference. It  takes  on the form of syncopation: a “violent off-beat” (Davis, “‘Roots and Wires’: Polyrhythm Cyberspace and the Black Electronic”), a “moment when time falters” (Clément, Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture), a “difference between anybody and everybody” that “makes one endlessly troubled” (Stein,Lectures in America).

By connecting rhythm to syncopation, this presentation aims not only to use Deleuze and Guattari’s conceptualisation of rhythms, but also to rearticulate it. As Steve Goodman states, Deleuze and Guattari’s definition of rhythm is compromised because it draws on Western musical sources (Messiaen, Berg). Shifting the focus from these traditional Western musical references to Black Atlantian currents of polyrhythmic music allows us to bring the concept further.

about the author(s)

Jonas Rutgeerts

Jonas Rutgeerts is a dramaturge and performance theorist. He studied philosophy (KU Leuven) and dramaturgy (University of Amsterdam) and is currently working on a PhD entitled “Rhythm as an Artistic and Theoretical Tool in Contemporary Choreography” (KU Leuven). His research is situated at the junction between dance studies, philosophy, and cultural studies and his main interests involve temporalities of performance, social choreographies, and choreopolitics. As a dramaturge and researcher he collaborates with, among others, Ivana Müller, David Weber-Krebs, Arkadi Zaides, Needcompany, and Clément Layes. He is the author of the book Re-act: Over Re-enactment in de hedendaagse dans (Agent, 2015).

info & contact


KU Leuven, BE


jonas.rutgeerts [AT]