Dancing Henry Five at the Pantages Theatre

Paula Court

David Gordon's Dancing Henry Five, co-presented by Walker Art Center and Hennepin Theatre Trust, compresses Shakespeare's four-hour epic into one hour, while expanding its scope to encompass Bush-league politics, the eternal horrors of war, and the current decline of gallantry on every level. All that in a bare-bones production featuring nine dancers in rugby shirts manipulating a bunch of ladders, folding chairs, and swatches of fabric. Actor/dancer Valda Setterfield is the molten core of Gordon's (literally) moving production, multitasking as narrator, chorus, commentator--even a few characters. Speaking with impeccable English elocution, she forms a narrative bridge between the text of the play (offered in vintage audio recordings of Lawrence Olivier's 1945 film) and Gordon's script. "I fill in, fill up, fill out? and once in a while offer an opinion, which is Gordon's, not mine," she explains at the beginning of the play. Gordon's wife, muse, and creative partner for over 40 years, the English-born Setterfield perfectly captures the shifts in tone from colloquial to rhetorical that characterize the playwright's wry commentary. "I've always been interested in the totality of theater," says the 70-year-old Setterfield, who danced with Ballet Rambert and the Merce Cunningham Company before joining forces with Gordon. In Dancing Henry Five she is onstage almost constantly, both speaking and dancing. "It's literally about having enough breath," says Setterfield, whose mobile face, gleaming white hair, and ability to blend conversational directness with regal authority are reminiscent of Judi Dench. One moment she's making sharp political observations: "Saving face in the public sphere is classical government shenanigans." The next she's a weary, conflicted mother negotiating the devastating logic (or illogic) of war: "And now it's my son out there. I don't want my son to think I'm not patriotic...which must mean I want someone else's son to die." "It's about stripping away everything to let the moment illuminate you," says Setterfield, who has been performing for 45 years. With her calm clarity and riveting emotional depth, Setterfield embodies the elegance and intelligence of that old Shakespearean rag--and Gordon's provocative gloss on it.

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