David Gordon directs and stars in Eugene Ionesco’s ’The Chairs’

for The Brooklyn Paper
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David Gordon, who choreographed, directs and performs in Pick Up Performance’s production of Eugene Ionesco’s "The Chairs" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, has a long history with that piece of furniture.

"At various times in my work, I have used objects as props, as partners, as stage devices of some sort," Gordon told GO Brooklyn. "I came upon the metal folding chair and I have found reasons for using them throughout the years."

Gordon’s work with chairs began in 1974 with "Chair, Alternatives 1 through 5"; 30 years later, he choreographed "Dancing Henry V" at Danspace.

"Last time I tried to see how I could deal with Shakespeare. Now I’m trying to see how I can deal with Ionesco," said Gordon.

In this icon of absurdist theater, an old lighthouse keeper and his wife rush about the stage desperately trying to seat a crowd of imaginary guests who have come to hear the old man deliver his final words of wisdom.

In Gordon’s interpretation, which features a new translation by Michael Feingold and a commissioned score by Bang on a Can co-founder/composer Michael Gordon (no relation), David Gordon (the old man) and his wife and longtime dance partner Valda Setterfield (the old woman) perform a dance of half-remembered steps, reciting and singing the text, written on pages, cards and fortune cookie strips they toss about along with the metal folding chairs.

Gordon, 68, has a personal take on "The Chairs."

"I had read ’The Chairs’ many times, and it seemed Valda and I had come to an age when we could do this production," said Gordon. "There comes a time in your life when you realize in order for there to be a new star someone has to forget the old one, and you have to realize that everything you’ve done is over."

Gordon has a long relationship with Brooklyn, although his family lived on the Lower East Side at the time of his birth. When he was 16, his family moved to Coney Island, and after high school he enrolled in Brooklyn College. Gordon’s son, Ain, lives in Windsor Terrace and is currently working with BAM on a project about Brooklyn.

At Brooklyn College, Gordon majored in English, but soon became involved in the fine arts and then "stumbled" into theater and modern dance.

After graduating in 1956, he said, "I thought I’d better get a job. I looked in the New York Times. Every day I decided I had to be someone else."

Still, Gordon claims that if he hadn’t met Setterfield, a British dancer, in 1958, "I might have been a plumber.

"I’m a private person, and performing is a public act," he said. "I don’t know how the hell I got here." Gordon also refuses to be categorized.

"I’m not very interested in the labels that have been applied to my work and the work of the people I came up with. It’s just an easy way to pin a butterfly to a wall," said Gordon. "In most of what I’ve done, I’ve been a choreographer and a performer. When there are words to be learned, I am the director. Most choreographers direct their own work. We dance in them until we get too old. There are proportions of words and movement. Sometimes the words are the music we dance to. Words have sound and phrasing. You can use them in musical ways.

"Long ago I stopped worrying about the terms ’dance’ and ’choreography - I said the work was constructed by me. I have been involved in theater and dance for a long time, because I haven’t recognized the cliff between them. As long as I don’t fall in, I think that I’m doing okay."

Gordon believes "The Chairs" is absurd in the same sense that life is absurd.

"I was an absurd member of my family," he maintained. "When I first saw absurd plays I thought they were life."

Indeed, for Gordon, "The Chairs" is as relevant today as it was over 50 years ago. The reason?

"Because since I grew up I have learned that the sun and the milk my mother told me I can count on are killing me," said Gordon. "Everything is absurd."

For Gordon this new encounter with the absurd is a welcome extension of his career.

"It’s my job to make disorder, to do something that doesn’t fit in with my other work so I can stay interested and scared. Doing ’The Chairs,’ I’m terrified," he confessed. "I’m on stage, acting. Ionesco is famous, and we’re collaborat­ing."


Pick Up Performance’s "The Chairs" runs Dec. 1-4 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $25 and $45. The BAM Harvey Theater is located at 651 Fulton St. between Ashland and Rockwell places in Fort Greene. For tickets and more information, call (718) 636-4100 or visit

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