Photo: Andrew Eccles
“At what point in the day does Valda become ‘Valda?’” asked my dance writing colleague as we shared a cab to the theater for a program we were both slated to review. “Is it,” she continued, “when she puts on her aquamarine earrings?” We were coming from a party enhanced by many guests from the dance world. The fabulous blue-green earrings were sternly rectangular and amazingly large. You looked at them and they lured your imagination to deep-sea depths promising all sorts of watery magic.
The British-born Setterfield, the dancer and actor wearing them, was—indeed, still is—famous for her clothes and the unique yet understated grace with which she combined the elements of her costume. It was said that her husband, David Gordon—who has, as he puts it, “made work” that lies between movement theater and spoken theater—dressed her. If so, it was still apparent that she had a mind—and sensitive taste and imagination—of her own. It was obvious in her very posture and gait. I remember a time when one would walk the length of the promenade of the New York State Theater during an intermission of, say, the New York City Ballet and back again, keeping a keen eye alert to the whispered pronouncement “Valda’s here!”
It was also said that the couple found many of the garments in Setterfield’s wardrobe—the unique, the exotic, the invariably beautiful– at flea markets. Legend has it that once the couple went their separate paths of investigation at such a market in Paris and Gordon called over to Setterfield, “Valda, I’ve found a Fortuny!” And Setterfield, answered, “Oh, David, I already have half a dozen.” I have no doubt that she did.
I and many another “Valda” fan will attend a performance simply because she’s in it. She is invariably the epitome of understatement and composure—virtues rarely on display today and thus all the more instructive and encouraging.
Setterfield is about to appear in Gordon’s The Matter/2012, at Danspace October 25-27, with two shows (7:00 and 9:00) each day.
© 2012 Tobi Tobias