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I'm posting the link to a very interesting article by Ismene Brown on Antony Tudor. I'm a great admirer of Brown, but some of the lines in this piece made me recoil -- it's a bit harsh, not only to Tudor, but to Ashton. (It matters that Tudor had one major love of his life as opposed to the "promiscuous" Ashton? Why do we need to consider, or even know, this?)


What was especially interesting to me, as one who only knows Tudor from an American perspective, is the idea that he was considered a coward for leaving England for America during the War. I'd never considered that. I thought it was merely a job opportunity -- and (although this isn't in the article) that Ashton's mad dash for the last ship home, after the premiere of "Devil's Holiday" was as much a "better get home" as a patriotic statement.

It is interesting that, except for "Pillar," all of Tudor's masterpieces were made in England. The contemporary criticisms of some of Tudor's American ballets -- "Undertow," "Nimbus" -- is that they're too "working-class English" and not American enough. And I've always wondered if his "choreographer's block" -- the long, long period of time between major ballets, where he worked mostly at Juilliard, or abroad -- as because a reaction to the aesthetic shift, that Brown mentions, from dramatic to abstract ballets. Was this a loss of confidence? What would have happened if Tudor said, "Critics be damned" and kept making his gritty, "working-class English" ballets?

Another aspect of Tudor that's always intrigued me is that he has a reputation for being extremely mean -- vicious -- to dancers. This is also mentioned in the article -- Tudor seems quite proud of it. But I've talked to two Swedish dancers who were with the Royal Swedish Ballet when Tudor was director, and many Danish dancers who were either in, or watching, Tudor stage "Lilac Garden" there in the 1970s, all of whom had very positive experiences with him. What mean vicious man? they ask in surprise. In Denmark, he had three of the most insecure, emotionally fragile dancers you could imagine in the same cast, and he was lovely to them.

Any comments on this article, on Tudor's place in history, on his ballets?

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Tudor has always fascinated me, I suppose because I've seen so little of his work. The photographs of "Lilac Garden" always intrigued me. The first Tudor ballet I saw was "The Leaves Are Fading," and it's so different from the Tudor one reads about -- I didn't know how to take it. It was a nice, pretty ballet, but it was hard for me to fit it into the Tudor I'd read about.

I have to agree that the article had many lines that made me wince. Do we need to know all these grimy little details about everybody? It makes them all sound so petty. Would an artistic director really acquire a ballet and only give it a few weeks rehearsal so that it would look underrehearsed -- do that deliberately? And if there's no reason to think so, why speculate on it?

I think perhaps historical revisionism has gone too far. There must be a balance between "He was the greatest choreographer who ever lived, a saint, a fine husband and father, and nursed little animals back to health in his spare time" and what passes for biography today.

I'm curious about "Shadowplay." When you think of it, a program of "Lilac Garden," "Pillar of Fire" and "Shadowplay" -- what a range of subject matter! What an interesting man. I know there are two biographies of Tudor. Has anyone read them, and are they any good -- or just more psychobabble and muckraking?

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Several things in that article by Brown that were most unnecessary.

In my experience working with Tudor, the things that Dowell said about him in the other article were right on. He taught me to think, and totally changed many things about my approach to ballet. I really think that the lessons learned from working with Tudor were extremely important and influential in whatever maturity I finally managed, both as a dancer and later as a teacher.

I did see the mean side of him sometimes, although it was not directed at me. I lucked out on that one! smile.gif He could not abide stupidity, or dancers who could not think or were afraid to speak up. If he asked a question, he wanted an answer, not necessarily the "right" answer, but at least something that showed one was thinking. If dancers were afraid of him, he took advantage of that.

I wonder if perhaps he was not able to be so "mean" in Sweden and Denmark was the fact that communication might have been somewhat more difficult? smile.gif

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There were a few odd things in the article. I don't see anything wrong with airing the fact that Tudor could be nasty in the rehearsal hall. (In biographies of prominent generals, for example, it is customary to note how they conducted themselves in their relations with their subordinates.)

Re: the emigrants to America. I found this more troubling (and pardon the length of the following, I don't mean to pontificate, but I have a point, honest). It is true that Auden and Isherwood came under fire for leaving when they did, mainly because they made it clear upon departure that they expected their expatriation to be lengthy if not permanent and that their leaving was directly connected to the coming war. It was quite a scandal and they were pilloried and parodied: readers of Evelyn Waugh will remember Parsnip and Pimpernell. The two men were not lovers at this time but friends, incidentally. Isherwood's reputation in Britain was permanently affected, Auden's less so.

Britten and Pears left England a little after A&I in 1939, not for any reasons related to the threat of war but because there was work for Britten in North America and Pears came along for the ride. They went to Canada first and after a brief stay, to Michigan, and only then to New York. Pears initially expected to return to England in a few months; Britten did contemplate staying on indefinitely, but only if war did not come, among other considerations. (B&P also left England as Just Friends, although this was to change in America, and they were not yet linked as artistic allies and collaborators in the public mind as the other two were.) They left for England in 1942 -- they applied for passage much earlier than their actual departure date, but the war made arrangements difficult -- and upon their return both received exemptions from military service as conscientous objectors. As far as I know they didn't receive the public beatings Auden and Isherwood did.

Even allowing that space considerations wouldn't permit Brown to go into all this stuff, it's hard to escape the conclusion that these two very different couples in very different circumstances were lumped together along with Tudor and Laing for the frail reason that they were all gay men, perhaps not the wisest line to take.

I have nothing but respect for Ismene Brown, and I certainly think it's all right to explore the private lives of artists no longer with us, but she is treading on dangerous ground when she compares Tudor's "monogamy" favorably with Ashton's "promiscuity", strongly implying that sexual relationships that mimic the marital norm are more significant than those that do not. (Also, Ashton hardly qualifies as promiscuous, IMO.)

Finally, it's okay to talk about what the two said to and about each other, even if it got a little catty. They were rivals. Rivalries get personal.

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dirac, thank you very much for all of that background. (I'd agree that there's no problem with mentioning cattiness and rivalries in a biography, or an article that's specifically about the history of the time, but in a preview piece for a revival of a ballet?)

I think the article reflects what editors want these days -- more gossip than art, anything negative or remotely scandalous.

kip, there are two Tudor biographies that I know of (there was to be a third, by Fernau Hall, but I don't think it was ever finished.) They are very different. One -- "Shadowplay" by Donna Perlmutter -- is very concerned with his personal life. The other (and I can't remember the title) is published by Oxford University Press and is by Judith Chazin-Bennahum, and deals with the ballets. Some find the latter to be a bit dry and the former to be not dry enough smile.gif There's no "Goldilocks" book for Tudor yet, I'm afraid.

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I found the statements at the end, implying that Tudor actually needed to be forgiven for leaving Britain during the war, offensive, stupid, parochial and chauvinistic. That a respected critic can be making them in the year 2000 shows precisely why anyone might want to leave the U.K. at any time, even today.

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Be wary of the Perlmutter book. I've read in several ballet journals that the book is filled with errors and the author makes personal judgments about ballets she could not possibly have seen. However, I've always wanted to read it. At the risk of seeming catty, wasn't Laing at one time married to Diana Adams?

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