David Gordon, Renowned Choreographer And BC Alum, Dies At 85

Gordon in 2016 inside a retrospective of his work at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts./Sam Hodgson for The New York Times.

By Radwan Farraj


   David Gordon, an award-winning director and choreographer who lived a vibrant career in theater, passed away on Jan. 29 in his Manhattan home. Gordon was 85. 

   Born on July 14, 1936, Gordon was the son of two Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Samuel and Rose (Wunderlich) Gordon. The choreographer spent his childhood in the Lower East Side and Coney Island, graduating from Brooklyn College with a BFA in 1956. Originally an English major, Gordon switched to art and eventually secured the lead role of the Witch Boy in the college’s production of “Dark of the Moon.”

   In 1957, Gordon joined the dance company of choreographer James Waring, an influential figure of New York’s avant-garde during the 50s and 60s, where he met his future wife Valda Setterfield, an actress and dancer from England. Setterfield and Gordon married in 1961 and were together until Gordon’s passing. Gordon would perform solo or as a duet with Setterfield in performances he choreographed.

   After facing extreme criticism in 1966 for his solo performance of “Walks and Digressions,” Gordon stopped choreographing dances altogether for nearly five years. In 1971, Gordon would pick up where he left off, making performances and touring with a crew of fellow performers throughout the 1970s and 1980s as members of his Pick Up Performance Company. 

   Following the debut of Gordon’s “Framework” and his involvement in “The Photographer” (1983), he was awarded his first New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) Award. “Framework” was praised for its potential to link the past and future of dance, and its use of dialogue and dance to create a powerful performance. 

    Gordon went on to receive in 1991 his second Bessie and first Off-Broadway Theater (Obie) Award for “The Mysteries and What’s So Funny?” (1991). Later, he earned another Obie Award for “The Family Business” (1994), in which he collaborated with his son and playwright Ain Gordon.  Gordon received his fourth Bessie Award in 2001 for his “FAMILY$DEATH@ART.COMedy,” and directed and choreographed his own adaptations of several classic works throughout the 2000s.

  He is survived by his wife, whom he celebrated with his 61st wedding anniversary the night before he passed, his son, sister Lois Gordon, and two granddaughters.


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