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Legendary Choreographer David Gordon’s newest work, THE PHILADELPHIA MATTER 1972/2020, will premiere online starting September 10. The new piece further evolves the legacy of Gordon’s The Matter works (first presented in 1972, and most recently reconciled for MoMA in 2018). The work features Wally Cardona, Pick Up Performance Co(s) members Karen Graham and Valda Setterfield, and over 30 Philadelphia-area performers, who have been working with Gordon remotely to create the piece…
At 84, choreographer Gordon is feeling more ambitious than ever. Two years ago, while composing a new version of his seminal work “The Matter” for The Museum of Modern Art’s 2018 exhibition “Judson Theater: The Work Is Never Done,” Gordon began considering how he could communicate his version of postmodern dance to a new generation. Eighteen months later, he approached Christ Church Neighborhood House with what has become THE PHILADELPHIA MATTER – 1972/2020.
Gordon’s vision could not have been more timely. Using his lifelong study of movement, new technology and an intergenerational group of performers, the choreographer is using this project to bring artists and audiences together in separate spaces — a necessity that did not exist during the piece’s conception.
By deliberately “not” presenting in a concert format, David Gordon helps to move the field towards more alternative modes of presentation that represent inclusivity of audience, performers and community. This disruption of expectation defines Gordon’s artistic contributions as much today as it did over 40 years ago. “Dance as an art form,” Gordon explained a 1975 essay, “has no alternative but to stretch its too-tight, rigidly-boned corset out of shape to accommodate each lump of newly grown flesh.”
While crafting the project, Gordon has engaged in a new way of working that enables him to create in his inimitable style: using his visual scores (collages), he is scoring the movement of performers in two cities via remote technology. As Gordon observes performers interacting with his scores on screens, he is using their responses to inform his choices for the work.
Gordon has utilized visual scores as choreographic devices since 1971, when he remotely created a solo for Valda Setterfield. Setterfield, then on tour with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, received by mail 98 Eadweard Muybridge motion study photographs that Gordon had collated in a specific order. Setterfield learned the solo by memorizing the images in the order they were presented and performed it in the 1972 work “The Matter.”
David Gordon reanimated this process with his 2020 venture into “movement scores”: last year, he began developing a new set of visual scores in the form of computer-image driven collages. Now in rehearsals, Gordon is assembling, disassembling and layering selected images of movement for each individual performer.
THE PHILADELPHIA MATTER, 1972-2020 will premiere as a Curated Selection for the 2020 Fringe Arts Festival and live on the Christ Church Neighborhood House platform.
David Gordon was one of the founding members of the Judson Dance Theater, a movement that defined postmodern dance between 1962 and 1964 at Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village. It is significant that Christ Church Neighborhood House — another sacred place turned performing arts space — is producing perhaps the final large-scale project of Gordon’s career.
Both the sacred place and the performance space call audiences to observe rituals and to contemplate the transcendence of time. On the Christ Church campus, the active Episcopal congregation and Christ Church Preservation Trust, a secular nonprofit, share a vision of radical inclusion. For the Neighborhood House Program, this philosophy results in a curatorial interpretive vision deeply committed to supporting any type of performance and performer.
In “Performing Artists and Sacred Spaces,” a 2016 study conducted by Partners for Sacred Places and Drexel University, researchers encouraged sacred places and artistic communities to fight financial hardships by sharing resources: “with skilled stewardship, congregations of sacred spaces can be mobilized to create to the revitalization and renewal of the performing arts disciplines through the careful matching of their underused assets.” Christ Church Preservation Trust came to this conclusion nearly two decades ago, when artists began experimenting on the historic Christ Church campus.
In 2011, the Trust established the Neighborhood House Program to professionally administer its performance spaces, providing subsidized rentals to a growing slate of Philadelphia artists and ensembles. THE PHILADELPHIA MATTER, 1972-2020 further celebrates and advances our mission to produce cutting edge work.
A founding artist of the seminal Judson Church performances and the improvisational Grand Union, David Gordon has purposefully examined, expanded and torpedoed conventional lines between theater and dance, pioneering the use of text and textual narrative in movement work. He presaged his later writing and directing for the stage and predated the live theater form that became known as “performance art.” Gordon’s dual status as a movement artist and theater artist was acknowledged when he was awarded a Pew Charitable Trust National Dance Residency grant and a National Theater Residency grant in successive years. In the last decade he has received three NEA American Masterpiece Grant Awards and a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. His numerous commissions include The Actors Studio, American Ballet Theatre, American Conservatory Theater, American Repertory Theater, BBC, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Dance Theatre of Harlem, New York Theatre Workshop, PBS Great Performances, and Serious Fun @ Lincoln Center.
Producer Alyce Dissette has worked on more than 80 productions and projects in a wide range of venues and roles from staff member with the Metropolitan Opera presentations department to former Executive Producer of the PBS national TV series, “Alive from Off Center/Alive TV.” Artists she has worked with include filmmakers Julie Dash and Errol Morris, visual artist James Turrell, author Art Spiegelman, and in the performing arts, Richard Alston, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Richard Foreman, Nona Hendryx, and Robert Wilson. She has worked with David Gordon since 1985.
A theater designer in Philadelphia for over 20 years, Jorge Cousineau has created sets, lights, sound and video, most notably with Denver Center Theatre, Arden Theatre Company, Wilma Theater, and 1812 Productions. He is a recipient of two Independence Foundation Fellowship grants, several Barrymore Awards, and the F. Otto Haas Award for Emerging Theater Artist. Cousineau was awarded a Pew Fellowship in 2011.
Distinguished actor and postmodern dancer Valda Setterfield is noted for more than a decade as a member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and for her performances in works by her husband David Gordon for over 50 years. Setterfield is the recipient of two New York Dance and Performance Awards (Bessie), an Obie Award and won the 2018 Best Performance Award as “Lear” in the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland.
For more info on this performance, tickets, and the Fringe Arts Festival, click here.