Stacked Chairsposted on November 5th, 2009 by Jedediah Wheeler
When you think about things to dance with, what comes to mind…other than your beloved? Gene Kelly’s umbrella is a good first bet. Canes, of course. Hoops work nicely as partners. What about a black metal folding chair? Ouch!!
David Gordon has made his way successfully through the hard-knock life of a cutting-edge choreographer by defying expectations. Consider his use of objects—ready-made set pieces of found objects morph from a door to a table to a book. Or, fragments of language that zing from one corner of a stage to another—Shakespeare with the iambic pentameter excised. This in service of a signature postmodern movement philosophy that is a mélange of all things performance—music, dance, theater, and fragmented declarative sentences.
But David’s claim to ongoing fame may well hinge on his romance with the metal folding chair. In fact, it may be a fetish to be researched. The productions he brings to the Alexander Kasser Theater, UNCIVIL WARS (Nov. 5–8) and Shlemiel the First (Jan. 16–24), both reveal David’s stellar chair-dance technique. UNCIVIL WARS concludes with a rhythmic choral number using 25 folding chairs, in what I call a postmodernist’s tribute to Busby Berkeley, while Shlemiel has seven men with beards and black hats kicking up a storm to traditional klezmer music and the clatter of rapidly unfolding folding chairs.
There are many reasons to focus on an artist in this dissecting way. In general, artistic achievement in the course of a career is the most often cited rationale. This is true for Mr. Gordon, whose work with the seminal Grand Union at the formidable Judson Church in Greenwich Village set the barre for excellence in dance. His work has been seen on stages as varied as St. Mark’s Church and the Metropolitan Opera. Mikhail Baryshnikov speaks of working with him as though Gordon were secretly George Balanchine.
The most reasonable thing to say about David is that he often leaves his audience (and myself) speechless. Although his dance works use text and objects generally associated with theater, Gordon is a choreographer. He choreographs people and things and ideas. ”Acting” is not the focus, but everyone performs at often-breakneck speed. Stationary objects—whether people or things—are foreign to David. Despite his use of folding chairs, no one sits down for very long.
Jedediah Wheeler is Executive Director of Arts & Cultural Programming at Montclair State University.