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Gordon Redux

By Albert Lee
Copyright 1999 Albert Lee

Sunday at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, David Gordon and his Pick Up Performance Company presented "Autobiography of a Liar," an evening-length retrospective of eleven of Gordon's "new and used" dance pieces. For a viewer who had never been there, it was an evening that invited everyone to share in memories of the seminal Judsonite's career. Lola Pashalinski, with microphone and sneakers, emceed in the role of Gordon himself, tying together bits and pieces of remembered dance with wry storytelling about Gordon's professional ups and downs.

On "Chair" (1975): Can a chair be a muse? "A chair interacts and doesn't ask why."

On "Mannequin" (1962-63): "I started this piece sitting in the bathtub waiting for the lice body liquid" -- could I have misheard this? -- "to do its job."

On "Sleepwalking" (1971): East Village junkies played the muses. "How far off-balance can a semi-conscious person be?"

On "The Matter" (1979): Everyone had been asking about the Paul Newman movie: "What's 'Hud'?" "I wanted people to ask, What's 'The Matter'?"

What I love about postmodern dance is its humane gentleness, its calm rhythm, its trust in the intelligence of limbs and hips and necks to carry their own meaning and do their own job, to move simply without being simplistic. All of this was in evidence Sunday. It was an evening of tremendous aplomb and grace, thanks to Gordon's dancers -- Wendell Beavers, Hope Clark, Scott Cunningham, Karen Graham, Paul Langland, Eli McAfee, Brendan McCall, Cynthia Oliver, Lucy Sexton, and Valda Setterfield, Gordon's longtime companion.

Pashalinski offered other insights. In the days when Duncan and Denishawn were revered, Gordon took Sophie Tucker and Milton Berle as his idols. On his esthetic: "My peers aspire to art. I aspire to vaudeville."

On the inevitable evolution of his company: "They're turning into caterers, therapists, traitors!"

On his new dancers: "They keep getting younger!"

On Yvonne Rainer: "Yvonne Rainer is the muse of seriousness."

On Steve Paxton: "Steve Paxton is thoughtful."

On Arlene Croce: Is Valda your muse? she asks Gordon. No, he says. You are. (Here Setterfield walks softly by, her mouth a perfect "O.")

On Croce: "You are the goddess of What-if."

On "Trying Times" (1982): He loves "Apollo." He watches it with Baryshnikov. He sees it many times. He loves the Stravinsky, and uses it in his own interpretation. On Sunday, in the hallowed space of St. Mark's Church, Gordon and Setterfield dance the poignant pas de deux.

"Twenty-one Minutes Some Odd" (1999), presented in its entirety, is the next-to-last piece of the evening. Richard Einhorn's minimalist score is all pulsing agon and strings. The most meaningful images for me: In unison, the dancers face the audience and crouch, assaying the terrain; lean back with an outstretched arm and scrunched faces; then crouch again but this time in readiness, in expectation. And also this: A serene, Butoh-like Setterfield stepping out and back toward the center, her mouth agape, and surrounded by younger dancers -- a gorgeous nucleus of postmodern dance. 'Is she bequeathing a legacy?' I wonder. 'Is this the future?' It is exhilarating.

On his company: "The dance company is family, and the family is muse."

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