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Review 1, 1-14: The Bard, but Better
Gordon Spins Shakespeare
By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2004 Gus Solomons jr
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NEW YORK -- Playing
two weekends, January 8-11 and 15-18, at Danspace Project at St.
Mark's Church, David Gordon's new "Dancing Henry Five: a Pre-emptive
(Postmodern) Strike & Spin" condenses Shakespeare's five act, four-hour
epic into a concise, hour long... epic, cutting out the boring dialog
and spicing up highlights with dancing.
Gordon can make a silk
purse out of a sow's ear, and the presence of his wife and muse
Valda Setterfield adds custom details. He has a flawless knack for
elegant staging. And here, with a cast of seven stellar dancers
(Karen Graham, Tadej Brdnik, Tricia Brouk, Todd Allen, Christopher
Morgan, Daniel Smith, and Luis de Robles Tentindo), Setterfield,
and the Bard as collaborators, Gordon has created a handsome handbag
atop a rolling library ladder announces with her reassuring British
voice that as narrator/chorus, she will "fill in, fill up, and fill
out" Shakespeare's tale and act as mouthpiece for Gordon's opinions.
King Henry V's war against France is Gordon's vehicle to rail against
war in general and draw parallels -- without naming names -- to
the imperialism of Big Brother Bush's current administration.
The performers parade
around the spacious sanctuary floor, bathed in Jennifer Tipton's
luscious light, carrying signs: "Dancing," "Henry," "Five," and
others, identifying themselves. They're dressed like rugby players
in striped jerseys and mismatched knee socks with dark shorts and
stocking caps. Later, they don elaborate ponchos made of similar
shirts sewn together a-jumble that double for battle armor and,
tied around waists, courtly gowns.
Snippets of dialog from
the play and from writings about it, heard on tape by such theatrical
luminaries as Christopher Plummer and Laurence Olivier, weave through
musical passages from William Walton's "Henry V: Suite" and "The
Wise Virgins." Production stage manager Ed Fitzgerald controls things
from his seat on the altar. The audience sits on opposite sides
of the space, facing each other and the action.
Carousing at the Boar's
Head pub, the dancers play a game of catch with two red balls. The
irony of the lighthearted game turns dark, when Gordon observes
-- through his surrogate Setterfield -- that people who go to war
always say God is on their side, and that if they win, that proves
it, but wonders what the losers say.
With skill and imagination
Gordon -- a veteran of the sixties' Judson Group, which rebelled
against the costumes, sets, steps, and artifice of modern dance
-- mines a minimal movement vocabulary and finds infinite variations
in simple phrases: lunges: turned out, in, and to the side; arm
gestures and simple physical shapes; pedestrian walking in intricate
patterns. The simple movement always serves as metaphor for literary
ideas; it never calls attention to virtuosity, although its rhythmic
precision is technically rigorous.
a dying Falstaff, while his lover, Mistress Quickly (Brouk), dances
a sweet, mournful solo. Henry and his army sail for France, standing
on lengths of red-striped, black fabric that get dragged across
the floor. In a stately minuet Setterfield teaches English to Katherine
of France (Graham), in preparation for her potential alliance with
King Henry (Brdnik); with the same motif she abets their courtship.
In battle with the French,
the woefully outnumbered British soldiers play a kind of musical
chairs: they line up folding chairs and advance them, one by one,
and run in circles; they pound their spears (wooden poles) on the
ground in a brisk rhythmic tattoo, tossing dummies through the air
in Tipton's mysterious, shadowy light. Setterfield opines that the
British won because the French may have decimated themselves with
The dancers lay a carpet,
made of those ubiquitous striped fabric pieces, for the stately
wedding procession of King Henry and Princess Katherine, and finally,
the cast says a cheery "goodnight," and we go happily into the freezing
New York night.
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