Valda Setterfield

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Valda Setterfield
Born (1934-09-17) September 17, 1934 (age 87)
OccupationDancer, actress
Years active1958–present
Spouse(s)David Gordon
ChildrenAin Gordon

Valda Setterfield (born September 17, 1934) is a British postmodern dancer and actress, noted for her work as a soloist with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and for her performances in works by her husband, postmodern choreographer and director David Gordon. She has been described as his muse.[1] Their son, playwright and actor Ain Gordon, has worked with Setterfield on a number of projects as well.

Life and career[edit]

In England, Setterfield trained in ballet with Marie Rambert and Audrey De Vos, and mime with Tamara Karsavina, and performed in English pantomime. She also performed in an Italian revue.[2][3] In 1958, on the promise of a scholarship to study with José Limón,[3] she came to the United States,[3] following her good friend David Vaughan.[4] Vaughan and Setterfield have remained good friends.

Setterfield appeared with the improvisational dance company The Grand Union[3] and in the works of Katherine Litz, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Wilson, Richard Foreman and JoAnne Akalaitis. She performed with David Gordon – whom she first met when they were both in the company of choreographer James Waring – at The Living Theatre and Judson Dance Theater, and is a founding member of Pick Up Performance Co(s). She was featured artist on the WNET/PBS Dance documentary America’s Beyond The Mainstream and in 1987 costarred with Mikhail Baryshnikov in David Gordon's Made in USA for WNET/PBS Great Performances. In 1988 she returned to Rambert as guest artist, performing in a Gordon’s Mates.

Setterfield played Marcel Duchamp in the Bessie- and Obie Award-winning The Mysteries & What’s So Funny? (1990)[5] and toured Europe and Japan with the White Oak Dance Project in 1992. She has acted in the work of her son, playwright Ain Gordon, at Soho Rep and Dance Theater Workshop and played herself in his Art, Life & Show Biz at PS 122 and elsewhere.[6] She danced in Gus Solomons Jr.'s A Thin Frost in 1994.

In film, Setterfield has appeared in the work of Yvonne Rainer and Brian De Palma,[3] and performed the choreography of Graciela Daniele in Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite and Everyone Says I Love You.

On the afternoon of the 10th of September 2001, Setterfield was rehearsing for a performance that was due to take place within a few weeks on a specially constructed stage in the Austin J. Tobin Plaza of the World Trade Center complex next to World Trade Center 1. The rehearsal was cut short half way through due to the rain. The stage was destroyed the next day in the September 11th attacks. She later said in an interview about the attacks "My father was a golfer and he taught me to recognise the sound of a golf ball hitting its target, when I heard that sound I thought that something has hit its target". She was staying a few blocks away from the World Trade Center and saw the impact of American Airlines flight 11 and United Airlines flight 175 and the subsequent collapse of the towers.

In 2003, she danced at the 25th anniversary celebration of British Dance Umbrella, and in 2004/5 she performed in Dancing Henry Five at the Pantages Theater in Minneapolis, Danspace in New York City, the ODC Theatre in San Francisco, and other venues. She played The Old Woman in Eugène Ionesco's The Chairs at London’s Barbican Theater, On the Boards in Seattle, and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival.[7] She has also played the role of Bertolt Brecht in Gordon’s Uncivil Wars, which is based on Brechts's Roundheads and Pointheads.[8]

Setterfield has appeared in Jonah Bokaer's Player & Prayer (2008), with Carmen De Lavallade and Gus Solomons Jr., Anchises (2010) and Occupant (2013).

Awards and honors[edit]

In 1984 Setterfield received a New York Dance and Performance Award (Bessie), and in 1995 she, David Gordon and Ain Gordon received an Obie Award for their performances in The Family Business at Dance Theatre Workshop and New York Theatre Workshop. She received a second Bessie in 2006 for outstanding achievement.

In August 2017, Setterfield was the sole recipient of the "Fringe Angel" award for that year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which she received for her performance in the title role of Lear, created by Irish choreographer John Scott, based on Shakespeare's King Lear.[9]

In September 2019, Setterfield was the recipient of a Dance Magazine Award with David Gordon. The award noted that they "are renowned for the poignant humor of their work together – his uncanny sense of irony has found the ideal vehicle in her straitlaced, British facade."[10]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Friedman, Lisa (August 1986) "David Gordon: A Cult Choreographer Takes Center Stage". Dial
  2. ^ Smith, Amanda (February 1981)"David Gordon: Keeping the Options Open" Dance Magazine
  3. ^ a b c d e Croce, Arlene (November 29, 1982) "Profiles: Making Work" The New Yorker
  4. ^ Robertson, Allen (Autumn 1985) "Valda Setterfield - The early years" Dance Theatre Journal.
  5. ^ Gussow, Mel (December 18, 1991) "Review/Theater; A Flamboyant Tribute to Duchamp's World" The New York Times
  6. ^ "Art, Life & Show-Biz: A Non-Fiction Play" on
  7. ^ Isherwood, Charles (2004-12-03). "A Couple Plays a Couple". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-07-14.
  8. ^ LeFevre, Camille. (March 11, 2009) "'Uncivil Wars': Bush era prompted David Gordon to revisit land of roundheads, pointheads, war and deficits" MinnPost
  9. ^ Brennan, Mary (August 27, 2017) "Fringe Dance review: Lear, Dance Base" The Herald
  10. ^ Stahl, Jennifer (September 9, 2019) "Meet the 2019 Dance Magazine Award Honorees" Dance Magazinie

External links[edit]