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NYTB: Tudor & Limon

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Friday, Feb. 8, 2008

I'd hoped one of BT's Tudor experts would have posted by now, but rather than let this fine evening pass without comment...

This program began with a Suite of eight of the 12 Chopin dances that Jose Limon made in 1958 as a tribute to the Polish people. In the post performance panel discussion we were told that Mr. Limon's company had just had a disaster in Paris, with London barely better, but were then triumphant in Poland. Suite from Mazurkas could not help but remind of the Robbins Chopin ballets that were to follow, especially Dances at a Gathering. It would be unfair to make comparisons with the Robbins masterwork, especially in this partial form and without NYCB dancers. However these dancers did a fine job, especially, for me, in the Opus 30, No. 4 duet with Evan Swanson and Elena Zahlmann (what fine legato phrasing she has).

Thus I was optimistic when I saw that Ms. Zahlmann was to play Caroline--the bride of Convenience--in Antony Tudor's Jardin aux Lilas (Chausson, 1936). Of course I did see this back in the Sallie Wilson era at ABT, and Ms. Wilson staged this performance (as well as the evening's other Tudor ballets) for New York Theatre Ballet. We were later told by Ms. Zahlmann that Sallie Wilson had spent 45 minutes of coaching on one single jump, and the next day still came back to it! The intense preparation showed in a performance of great dramatic clarity. While this is a "story ballet" it did not looked acted at all, but rather lived by its dancers, the steps alive with humanity. Caroline's young Lover, Kyle Coffman, was quite believable, and you could feel their empty pain when he gave her the bouquet of lilacs at the end. The Man She Must Marry, Terence Duncan, displayed a more mature sadness, yet just as profound, and his mistress, Julie-Ann Taylor's hurt was palpable.

Then came two unfamiliar Tudors, both more different from Jardin than the few other Tudor ballets that I have seen. Little Improvisations (Schumann, 1953) was a set of duets for a young couple, tonight Rie Ogura and Mitchell Kilby. This carefree romp (who would have expected such from Mr. Psych?) was based on playing with a rectangular piece of cloth. Among many things, the cloth was turned into a baby by Ms. Ogura! If ABT ever were to want a little showpiece for a pair of young dancers, this would be a real audience-pleaser!

The final piece was Tudor's Judgment of Paris (Kurt Weill, 1938). Terence Duncan is a customer ("Client") in a Parisian bar (or perhaps a brothel?). His waiter Kyle Coffman brings him a bottle of Cristal, which he begins to drink in a Marie Antoinette glass (proof this is not a classy joint). Three hookers (not in Mr. Balanchine's sense!) sit at another table and take turns trying to seduce him, or at least encourage him to drink. In order, Juno (Christina Paolucci), Venus (an hilariously well-endowed Barbie, Elena Zahlmann), and Minerva (played as over-the-hill, all aches and pains, by AD Diana Byer). Forced to choose, he barely beckons toward Barbie, then passes out drunk and is robbed by the foresome.

In the discussion that followed we were told that Sallie Wilson was indisposed, her place taken courageously (still in her Barbie outfit) by Ms. Zahlmann. Much of the questioning concerned what we did not get to see in the Limon, and whether there might be a future mounting of Tudor's Romeo and Juliet. I was especially interested in Ms. Zahlmann's comments on dancing Tudor, how she felt intensely human dancing his work onstage, unlike any other choreography, and, in response to a question from a young dancer in the audience, that she felt this experience would stay with her and inform the way she would dance other chroeography.

Thanks to those BT'ers whose discussion of this event encouraged us to attend it. I learned that Antony Tudor was a much more diverse creative artist than I'd realized.

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Thanks, drb, for getting things rolling.

I had previously seen NYTB perform Lilac Garden and Judgment of Paris, so I was not surprised by the meticulousness of detail they convey. Perhaps because this theater, which probably doesn't hold many more than 200, is so intimate, no gesture is lost or blurred. And with dancers so lovingly committed, every moment has its own impact, and nothing is lost.

Those who know Tudor only from his offerings in ABT's rep know from Gala Performance that he was not a man without a sense of humor. It is the same broad, earthy humor of Judgment. Little Improvisations, which has a lighter touch and retains a sense of creative spontanaiety. I liked the episode after the "baby," when Rie Ogura twisted the sheet's corners to make small, pointy ears, and with Mitchell Kilby as the rear half, became a horse. It feels like the work of a very young choreographer, but dating from 1953, it was actually the newest -- by 20 years -- Tudor on the program.

The dancers were no less impressive in Limon's Suite from Mazurkas. Their ability to suddenly shift movements from weighted to weightless was remarkable. And yes, as an ensemble ballet with cast members dancing to Chopin solo and in groups of two, three or more, it does remind one of Dances at a Gathering. I would not be surprised to hear that the inspiration for DaaG owes something to Mazurkas, which premiered about 11 years before the Robbins.

Pianist Ferdy Tumakaka played the Mazurkas and, as an interlude Alexander Siloti's arrangement of Bach's Prelude in B Minor, the latter sounding much too Romantic, IMO. Noriko Suzuki accompanied Little Improvisations (Schumann), and the two joined forces for Judgment. Only Lilac Garden had taped music.

Thanks to those BT'ers whose discussion of this event encouraged us to attend it. I learned that Antony Tudor was a much more diverse creative artist than I'd realized.
Thanks to you, drb!
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