Jonathan Burrows & Chrysa Parkinson: Dogheart


Dogheart is a visual and aural feast (there are many courses) that utilises a handful of mediums – from still image to movement, music to spoken word. A projected image might last as long as an intricate phrase of steps or the nuanced co-delivery of some text. I appreciated the time and space that was given to things. The rigorous, almost scientific structure of the piece coupled with the ambiguity of meaning within it ensured that over-sentimentality was never a threat, and the functional layout of the stage – a desk, two chairs, clear space downstage and a projection screen upstage – was fit for a screening or seminar as much as a theatre performance. It made plain what medium took place, where on stage and lit the way for us.

The topicality of the work, loosely (it transpired in the post-show talk) based on the subject of how creators, Burrows and Parkinson, feel when they go out at night – was charged yet open-ended. This was a piece where successive episodes did not obviously relate. Yet the style of each mode of expression was consistent and there was coherence in the overall flow and abstract logic of it all. Spoken text, for example, varied greatly, leaping from from one subject to another: car headlights in the street; you and your comfort; a very un-special button you know about. This material delved into specifics: specifics of perception, experience, memory and thought. It was descriptive, stirring, puzzling and far from spoon-feeding.

Their bodies were exposed on the bare stage as they executed their movement, just as their two voices were contrasted as they spoke – the same words alongside one another at different natural paces, only occasionally and very decidedly in unison, the rarity of which was powerful. It was like two streams running side by side, words cascading rhythmically until they met by design, suddenly diverted together. The audience knows the difficulty of doing things in syncronicity. In this context, it jars, stands out and makes a statement about what we find natural and any effort that is made to override this.

That a projection of the naive drawing of a dog lasted for minutes to the accompaniment of Howard Skempton's piano music is some indication of the importance these two creators are willing to place on elements besides their own performance. However, while I can believe the attitude that they expressed in the post-show talk that this work was not about them but what they were making, the very fact that they – as two distinguished and acutely self-aware artists – performed in their own piece made it inevitable that it would be about them. Burrows' trademark meticulous compositional methods are a fascinating reflection of character, are they not?

Yet, quite apart from the intrinsic interest of watching these personas perform, Dogheart undoubtedly holds a lot of interest in its seams. The modal shifts between mediums are unfamiliar to us. A catalogue of images, words and gestures – remembered consciously and unconsciously – add layer upon layer of meaning. This can wash over us, surprise us, move us, make us sit up or nod off. I imagine we each take away something different. We absorb what we see and hear at different rates – some things at first, others after repetition, others never. That is why poetry – in any form – is provocative.


'Dogheart' by Jonathan Burrows and Chrysa Parkinson, 25-26 October 2010, The Place, London