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At eighty, David Gordon looks like the grandfather he is: He’s gained a little weight, but his eyes still sparkle when he contemplates his remarkable career. A native New Yorker and a graduate of Seward Park High School, Gordon went to Brooklyn College, majored in art, found his way to dance and theater classes, and was discovered sitting in a park by choreographer James Waring in the late 1950s, while still an undergraduate. The rest, as they say, is dance history; feel free to look it up. Or, better, take a rare chance to come and wallow in it at the Astor Gallery at Lincoln Center.
Until 1980 Gordon earned his living as a window dresser, creating displays for downtown shops like Azuma, which retailed Japanese-made products to proto-hippies on 8th Street. Since the early Sixties he’d been a pioneering member of the original Judson Dance Theater/Grand Union cadre, avant-garde dance experimenters with looks, brains, and a lot of chutzpah who led the charge against modernist styles and themes in American dance. After leaving his “day job” he took on more complex projects; funding and awards came his way from arts agencies and private foundations. In 1985, he told me once, he applied for a dozen different grants to make new work, expecting to maybe get one, but he got them all and then had to deliver.
In the attic-like conglomeration in the Astor Gallery you will find, in startling graphic formats, Gordon’s personal history (including photos of mid-century family gatherings and furniture from his folks’ apartment), posters from half a century of performances, and props and costumes from shows that have almost faded from memory. Gordon hates to throw anything out; the consequences of this hoarding tendency can be seen in the crowded, jumble-shop installation. Because he bought a huge Soho loft — where he still lives — in the 1960s, he was in a position to hold on to stuff others might have jettisoned. And so, since 2014, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the dedicated staffs of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and of Gordon’s own troupe have been assisting him in preparing and annotating scads of material for donation to the library’s unparalleled research collection. This installation, and the live performances accompanying it, are the byproducts of that process.
The show documents his childhood on Ludlow Street and in Coney Island and his work on more than fifty years of boundary-breaking experiments in combining movement, language, and strong visual statements into works of narrative performing art. As long ago as 1987, ballet superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov began championing Gordon, recruiting him to choreograph for American Ballet Theatre and for his own White Oak Dance Project; various stage projects and film and television programs, on display here, resulted from that association.
The exhibit at the library is the tip of a huge iceberg; while it’s delightful and nostalgic and deeply educational, and stacked, literally, with video into which you can happily disappear for hours, its primary value is to point the way to the work, so a new generation can discover it. Encounter Gordon in the flesh at the library’s Bruno Walter Auditorium on March 30 at 6 p.m., when his Pick Up Performance Co(s) previews his autobiographical new show, Live Archiveography. This one’s free; the full version debuts in June at the Kitchen.
‘David Gordon: Archiveography — Under Construction’
Vincent Astor Gallery
New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
40 Lincoln Center Plaza
Through April 6