I attended a preview performance of David Gordon’s Beginning of the End of the Beginning of at Joyce SoHo. I wasn’t sure what to expect; the piece strongly peaked critics’ interest and initiated a reunion of sorts for Gordon’s now silver-haired followers from his Judson days.
Gordon’s legacy in the world of post-modern dance is tricky to navigate in a contemporary field. Are there post-post-modern choreographers, and, if so, what becomes of the post-modern’s who took the field and society by storm in the days of Judson Church and Yvonne Rainer’s No Manifesto? Additionally, Gordon tag-teams in life and performance with Valda Setterfield (of Cunningham legacy), long-regarded as Gordon’s muse.
On a personal note, I want to be Valda Setterfield when I grow up. She is cute, spunky, and genteel.
Back to Gordon’s latest work; the hour-longish piece also serves as the celebratory piece highlighting Gordon’s fifty years of making work. Gordon wrote and choreographed the dance/theater dramedy (drama + comedy = dramedy) pulling from “absurd inconsistencies of what we see & how we see & questions of identity w/8 actors & dancers & 2 puppets playing 16 roles (generated from Pirandello’s writings).”
The puppetry is of the human-being nature, not fuzzy little guys dangling from strings.
Like any good post-modern choreography, it isn’t really clear when the piece begins. The dancer-actor-puppets wander in and out of the space prior to the “official” start, stretching, applying make-up, etc. After awhile the lights sort of dim, and you get the feeling that work is happening, although where/when/how it began is a little unclear. Eventually Setterfield walks up to the microphone and starts speaking.
Gordon himself is seated throughout the piece in a chair on a raised platform. From this perch, he surveys the unfolding scene. In the beginning, Gordon coaches Setterfield as a director prods his leading lady. As other characters wade around the two, Gordon retreats from the dialogue and assumes a narrator-spectator like role.
A trio provides bursts of swift, melodic movement as linkages between vignettes. The characters emphatically tell his/her story which somehow intersects with each other so that the viewer is able to piece a story (or stories) together. One man was abandoned as a child, one woman was forced into escort service, a mother is forced to reconcile her choices, and another is worn down by his family man duties.
Gus Solomons gallantly swoops throughout. Setterfield commands the crowd adroitly and her banter with Gordon oscillates from crotchety to combative. In the midst of the dancing and talking, the characters manipulate large flip-boards, chairs, and a door-less doorway on wheels throughout the entire piece.
The characters interact and connect with each other, but seem to maintain their own individual states of being. They come and go at will, only the dancing trio seem to work in tandem as they prepare or take-down each scene (props & set).
It is full of humor and honesty. The laughter derives from the common frustrations of everyday life. The movement contains elements of grace and stiff-necked slapstick. The music fades in and out, smoothing the roughness of the dialogue.
Happy 50th Anniversary, David Gordon!