There are lots of David Gordons out there. The one I am referring to belongs to the American postmodern dance category and you can find his name slotted somewhere in between Lucinda Childs and Yvonne Rainer. Referring to himself as a ‘constructionist’ rather than a ‘choreographer’, he is renowned for using pedestrian movements and dialogue in his works (I’m afraid everyone comes with a Sum-Up-Sentence and this appears to be his). To be honest, I am a little nervous to write about David Gordon, as most of my knowledge about him has been eclectically gathered from across the internet and the internet will always be a slippery source of information. Anything you read on the web is both Absolute Truth and All Lies. (Including this blog).
But I want to write about this incredible piece of video footage that I found on UbuWeb (that was ultimately my introduction to his work.) It is only half an hour long and was made I think in 1985. I am not too sure how to begin to describe it. It has a brilliantly garish eighties edge to it and now that the eighties have finally become hip instead of painful, I found myself utterly absorbed in this bizarre historical document that has a subtle sense of genius artistry behind it. (And the opening credits are something else!) It shows excerpts of two of Gordon’s works, Close Up (1979) and Dorothy & Eileen (1980) and then a brilliant and perfectly edited ‘panel discussion’ with Gordon. You should watch it. I couldn’t find any appropriate pictures, so here are some poor-quality screenshots that may appear soft and sexily vintage to the more sympathetic eye but are in fact just pixelated and awful. Still, they are better than nothing: (The first picture is from the opening credits).
He has had a long and interesting career starting in the 1960s and continuing to today, beginning and growing in the Judson Theatre scene (he was also a part of the Grand Union) and participating in the usual postmodern dance shenanigans and concluding with lots of Bessie Heads and Awards and Such. What I like about David Gordon is his use of wit and humour. Postmodern dance (as we understand the definition according to dance history) has certainly been dubbed by some square folk as dull / indulgent / pretentious. (Sadly, anything that is not mainstream is thrust into the arena of removed and theoretically-driven drivel). But David Gordon’s work has this charming and witty edge that manages to be both accessible and obscure (maybe more obscure than accessible but certainly quite fun). He is married to dancer Valda Setterfield, who performs in both Close Up and Dorothy and Eileen and she almost seems more interesting than him. Or perhaps, their relationship seems more interesting than him. If you don’t feel like watching the half hour UbuWeb video, Setterfield is also in this five minute YouTube video with Mikhail Baryshnikov, which is totally worth watching:
I love the dialogue in Dorothy and Eileen, which amazingly enough is improvised while the movement is choreographed. The way in which the two women who are performing talk about their mothers is the kind of conversation that you only realize how much you are enjoying when it stops. Delicate and organic it is a verbal exchange that is casually magical. In Close Up, the movement vocabulary is slow enough to remind you how much you miss moving. The clichéd positions that the couple (who are in fact Gordon and Setterfield) strike become honest and almost enviable (or perhaps I am just way too lonely and starved of physical affection). But the last section where Gordon discusses his work is my favourite. Artists love to talk about their art and it is almost always horrible for the people around them, but Gordon manages to talk about himself in a way that is more than bearable, even enjoyable. Here are some screenshots:
I am going to close off by simply saying this one more time, watch the UbuWeb video here, even just for the last few minutes of the panel discussion. Also check out his website, he seems to be currently working on some cool things with his son, Ain Gordon.