52 Portraits

Jonathan Burrows (Director), Hugo Glendinning (Other), Matteo Fargion (Composer), Lucy Clarke Bishop (Producer)

    Research output: Practice-Based and Non-textual ResearchWeb publication/site



    52 Portraits is a practice-based research investigating and reflecting upon the often unacknowledged and complex web of relationships and cross currents of influence that exist within the ecology of dance performance. 

    The project invited 52 individual dance artists or duos to make a short gestural dance, set or improvised, in response to a minimal formal invitation. Each dance was filmed by Hugo Glendinning and overdubbed by composer Matteo Fargion with songs drawn from verbatim interview, detailing personal autobiographical, artistic, social and philosophical reflections. The diverse participants had all worked in some way before with the curators, situating the conception and mapping of the project within this larger underlying ecology of the dance field.

    52 Portraits asks what the choreographic could be and in which ways choreographic knowledge, thinking and embodiment might be shared in common or not, between differing origins and methodologies of practice and performance within dance. It draws upon parallel projects such as Boris Charmatz 20 Dancers for the XX Century, Deborah Hay Solo Commissioning Project, Mitchell Rose Exquisite Corps (42 choreographers, 1 dance), Quarantine Wallflower and Andros Zins-Browne Already Unmade which propose an accumulative archive of choreographic knowledge and enquiry. 

    The accumulative nature of dance ecology questions notions of the sole genius conceptual leap, echoing thinking by poet/theorist Édouard Glissant1 who writes 'We no longer reveal totality within ourselves by lighting flashes. We approach it through the accumulation of sediments'. The notion of sediment is present  also in the work of 52 Portraits performer Mette Edvardsen2, who says of choreographic process 'The dust that accumulates, accumulates through the working'. 

    Individual films of each artist(s) were released on a dedicated website, one a week throughout 2016, and have also been presented in both complete and edited form in the context of cinematic screenings. 


    - Project website: 52 Portraits website

    - 52 Portraits short film (created for the Light Moves Festival Limerick 2016)

    - Timescale: one portrait released each week throughout 2016

    - Performers:

    choreography and performance: Kwame Asafo-Adjei, Flora Wellesley Wesley, Hetain Patel, Betsy Gregory, Robery Cohan, Antonio de la Fe, Gillie Kleiman, Tim Etchells, Vicki Igbokwe, Stefan Jovanović, Marquez&Zangs, Siobhan Davies, Kloe Dean, Namron, Eleanor Sikorski, Botis Seva, Dan Daw, Claire Cunningham, Wendy Houstoun, Jonzi D, Alexandrina and David Helmsley, Brian Bertscher, Lucy Suggate, Andros Zins-Browne, Zenaida Yanowsky, Theo Clinkard, Chrysa Parkinson. William Forsythe, Mette Edvardsen, Crystal Pite, Mette Ingvartsen, Seke Chimutengwende, Emilyn Claid, Igor&Moreno, Liz Aggiss, Alesandra Seutin, Ramsay Burt, Deborah Hay, John Scott, Annie Hanauer, Mary Prestige, Kenneth Tharp, Daniel Linehan, Gaby Agis, Eleanor Bauer, Karl Jay-Lewin, Betsy Field and Mary O'Mahoney, Katye Coe, Chisato Minamura, Colin,Simon&I, Claire Croizé and Étienne Guilloteau, Francesca Fargion, Hugo Gledinning, Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion

    - Production credits:

    music performance: Francesca Fargion and Matteo Fargion

    direction: Jonathan Burrows

    music: Matteo Fargion 

    film: Hugo Glendinning

    production: Lucy Clarke Bishop for Sadler's Wells Theatre

    commission: Sadler's Wells Theatre

    - Online viewing figures: 89,000 visitors in total, 58,300 unique visitors

    - Cinematic screenings: 

    Light Moves Festival Limerick, Ireland, 3rd November 2016 

    Sadler's Wells Theatre London, 25th January 2016

    Xing Bologna, Italy, 28th/29th January 2018 

    Pact-Zollverein Essen, Germany 3rd February 2018

    Hebbel Theater Berlin, Germany, 4th March 2018

    Black Box Teater Oslo, Norway, 11th/12th March 2018

    Kunstfestspiele Hannover, Germany, 20th May 2018

    Artium Basque Centre-Museum of Contemporary Art Vitoria, Spain, 22nd November 2018

    International Dance Theatre Festival, Lublin, Poland, November 16th 2019

    New Theatre Institute of Latvia, Riga, Latvia, 15th February 2020

    - Other outcomes:

    2020 movement portrait project by Royal Birmingham Conservatoire acting students, led by Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargion and Hugo Glendinning

    - References:

    1 Édouard Glissant, from The Poetics of Relation, The University of Mitchigan Press, 1990, p. 33

    2 Mette Edvardsen, from a public interview as part of her PhD mid-term assessment, Oslo National Academy of the Arts, 11th February 2019 

    - From the invitation letter to artists Igor&Moreno:

    My suggestion is that the material not be about the imagined new, but rather about the ghosts in the body, the worn out, the too familiar, the traces of patterns which can't be called old because we live with them every day. And then to map them into the air or onto the table or on the body, and the privilege is that the camera sees the smallest intention. And we'll work in silence and you won't hear the music until the film is finished.

    I offer you the looping pattern of the old classical music form called La Folia, with four phrases A, B, C and D that you could make then learn or read in repeating order ABA CDC AB, which is a structure I lived with for a year while making Body Not Fit For Purpose and I made 51 gestural solos like this, and it's actually easy and makes nice change and some do it and others don't, but somehow it does its work anyway and the clue is about rapid shifts. Or you could sing a song or speak something in your head, that perhaps contains a question. Or anything else that makes sense to you, from your practice or from your questions. 

    The table should be somewhere in shot, as a link with the spectator sat with their laptop at their own table, but you can do what you like with it.

    For the lyrics I ask you a few questions which takes no more than 10 minutes, and I write the answers just as you say them and I only quote verbatim, and there are some questions the same for everyone and I also get restless and ask new ones, and the purpose is not to expose but to shift the usual philosopher's or journalist's angel image of the dancer and give the complexity and doubt and fury and intelligence and humility and politics which make our performance world interesting.

    Then you suggest a piece of music and Matteo uses it as a place to begin, taking pulse, rhythm, harmony, textures and tones, sometimes overtly and sometimes unrecognisably, but there's always something left that holds close to your choice. And he or his daughter Francesca, or both, sing the lyric that I've drawn from our talk, which contains something of your narrative or ideas or questions.

    The whole project should never feel it exploits or compromises or exposes anyone, and you can watch before it goes out and you can comment and question and change if you need.

    And it's not about subjective or objective, but about using the portrait to challenge how the hierarchies of dance and art wish always to place one approach or style above another, and to reclaim what gets marginalised.

    - The Elders Project

    The methodology of 52 Portraits was developed as part of a commission for Sadler's Wells Theatre, part of the Elixir evening which shared work by and for older dance artists. The Elders Project developed the technique of fragments of verbatim interview, set to music, and overdubbed onto a dance solo choreographed in the classical music form La Folia (ABA CDC AB). Brian Bertscher, Namron Dance, Betsy Gregory and Kenneth Tharpe repeated their solos from The Elders Project within the context of 52 Portraits.

    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


    • Dance Performance Collaboration


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