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Tudor then and now at ABT

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From today's NYT article that can be found on the Links forum.

DUNNING What is Tudor's place in Ballet Theater's history?

McKENZIE When we first started, there were creators creating, but they were all doing the circuit.

DUNNING Their hearts wouldn't have been with this new company?

McKENZIE That's what I think. And along came this guy who said, "I'll call this home." He took this group of dancers and made these incredible works and I think it gave Ballet Theater a unique profile.

It was such a special moment in history. Frankly, it ground to a halt somewhere in the 50's and I'm not sure why. It's almost like as these great stars emerged, people started trying to find star vehicles instead of the works themselves creating the stars. It got backwards there for a while. But certainly the groundwork of what he did in the 40's and into the 50's is still the identity, in my mind, of what Ballet Theater stands for. All I can say is thank God for him.

I read this yesterday and found myself scratching my head a bit. Does anyone else find this last bit confusing?

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That's one part of the interview I agree with (the idea that Tudor is half-modern dance and half-ballet, I do not!) Tudor was the last expressionist, and that movement did die in the 1950s (really, the 1940s, but it clung). I've read other things from McKenzie that make me believe he really does believe what he says. The repertory doesn't reflect it -- is that your confusion, BW? Or something else?

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I have a question for those who read or post here who also worked with Tudor. McKenzie said that this was the way he learned the ballets:

It was always just: put the steps first on the music. Set out the road map. Just learn the steps. Put it to music, but learn the steps, learn the phrasing.

and that the character came later. I wondered about others' experiences with Tudor.

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That was not my experience in working with Tudor at all. His first concern was the character. Who are you, why are you here right now, where did you come from and what were you doing before you were here? The steps were a necessary thing, and he was meticulous about them, however, they were not primary and had to emerge from the character and of course the music, at least in my recollection. Handling the dress was one of the biggest problems for my character, the Older Sister. It has a train and was fairly heavy. Very beautiful though, and the costumes we wore in the 60's were the original. :)

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Let's face it; Tudor is barely a presence in ABT's current landscape, and it is disingenuous of McKenzie to pretend otherwise. Pillar of Fire has not been performed by ABT since 1991, and the performance I saw Thursday night told me that most of the cast had no idea what they were doing or why. In all likelikhood, no one on stage had ever seen it performed. They simply repeated the choreography, more or less accurately and with respect if not insight. It was Tudor as school recital piece -- a novel experience!

Edited by Thalictum
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It's almost like as these great stars emerged, people started trying to find star vehicles instead of the works themselves creating the stars. It got backwards there for a while.

:mondieu: Plus ca change . . . ? :speechless:

Since McKerrow is so familiar with Pillar, having danced the younger sister with chilling subtlety during Tudor's lifetime, it will be interesting how she fares as Hagar.

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Thank you all for taking the time to respond to my thread's question and more. :blink:

The repertory doesn't reflect it -- is that your confusion, BW? Or something else?
Yes, Alexandra that is what I meant. I felt as though what McKenzie said, even though he may very well believe it, just didn't jibe with what I've seen and read. As Thalictum notes, Tudor is "barely a presence in ABT's repetoire", much to many people's apparent dismay. And the other aspect that I found confusing was that, unless I misread him, McKenzie was saying that ABT became a star vehicle but was no longer - and that I do disagree with.

It was thanks to an earlier thread this season in which Victoria described working with Tudor and, I believe, the discussion of Nora Kaye's (do I have the name right?) portrayal that I made sure to get tickets for November 5th. I'm not sure, but I believe Amanda McKerrow will be in Hagar's role that night, and I'm expecting good things from her. :(

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I did see Murphybut I thought of all the three ballerinas in the part, McKerrow seemed the likeliest to succeed. I don't recall who said it, but he recounted how Tudor originally chose non-stars for the cast, and had great success. Perhaps the same road should have been used this time. I was also disappointed with the interpretationof the younger sister by Xiomara Reyes. I have an old grainy tape of "Pillar" from 1973 and I found Reyes interpretation to be identical with the portrayer on this tape. (without looking it up, I can't remember who it was). I don't know what Tudor was looking for in this part, but these two interpretations lack sublety. I never saw Annabelle Lyon, but I did see Janet Reed and Norma Vance do the part many times. Their nastiness was not so overt. At times you could think--she is such a sweet girl, and then you would get a glance of her underlying maliciousness. Reyes and the girl on the 1973 tape are so close, I wonder if this was used as a study piece? I also felt that Reyes and Gomes were not in tune with the 1900 setting of the piece. There was something too modern about them.

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This is the cast on the 1973 tape of Pillar of Fire:

Pillar of fire (complete ballet) / choreography, Antony Tudor ; music, Arnold Schönberg ; scenery and costumes, Jo Mielziner ; cast, Sallie Wilson (Hagar), Ellen Everett (Youngest sister), Bonnie Mathis (Oldest sister), Marcos Paredes (Young man from the house opposite), Gayle Young (Friend), and company.

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