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Tudor: 20th Century Titan, M.I.A.

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Why is Tudor so well-reverered, yet so little performed? Joseph Carman in the NY Times. I've copied this link to the Choreographers Forum for discussion.

The 20th-Century Titan Whose Work Is M.I.A.

SINCE his death in 1987, Antony Tudor has still commanded a special reverence in the dance world. His extraordinary ability to reveal the human psyche through the language of ballet makes him a titan of 20th-century choreographers.

Sally Bliss, the trustee of the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, points out that his works are consistently performed by more than 35 dance companies in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia. But seeing a Tudor ballet in New York seems about as rare these days as finding a rent-controlled apartment. Audiences in Manhattan are far less likely to see Tudor ballets than those in Tokyo, where two Japanese ballet companies keep them in their repertory.

Tudor was named the choreographer emeritus of American Ballet Theater in 1980, and the company is the repository of much of his work. It was customary in the past for Ballet Theater to perform three or four Tudor ballets each year. But no Tudor works are being done in the spring season, which opens tomorrow at the Metropolitan Opera House.

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Thank you for posting that, Alexandra! I would like to send a bouquet to Joseph Carman for writing it, too. Wonderful article, but depressing too because of the startling lack of Tudor's work in NY and some of the ballets not having been seen in so many years. Romeo and Juliet is one that I never even saw, and would so love to see. I hope Kevin will be able to find the means to present it in ABT. It is a crime, IMO, that they are not doing Tudor every season. Very sad too that they don't seem to have the dancers to handle that repertoire.

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For those who live in the Washington area, there will be a FREE performance of the recent reconstruction of Tudor's "The Planets" on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage at 6 p.m. tomorrow night (Monday, May 14).

It's part of a college dance festival (A Celebration of College and University Dance) and the other works on the program will be an Isadora Duncan solo, Limon's Choreographic Offering (an excerpt, I think, not the whole thing) and, well, David Parson's The Envelope.

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Well, to give the Devil his due, I do think McKenzie's decided, not inappropriately, that Tudor's works are more suited for City Center than the Met. Certianly the revival of Dum Lustre (and kudos to McKenzie for even trying this!) would've looked very lost indeed at the Met.

What really makes me sad is reading reviews of Tudor's works by people who clearly Don't Get It. Comments I've read in reviews, or here, about Lilac Garden or The Leaves are Fading make me a little sad. I think Lilac Garden is just exquisite, and its emotional tangles, while of a period, easily relate to what any of us might find ourselves tied up in even in the 21st Century.

I wouldn't necessarily put all the blame on how these ballets are being performed, either. I thought the recent ABT performances of Jardin and Lustre were, for the most part, quite well done (with some rather large lapses here and there). I wonder if our audiences today are so conditioned to seeing "steps," whether of the classical, neoclassical, Forsythian, hip-hop or whatever persuasion, that works where bravura of any sort takes a clear back seat to the emotiona content just don't work for some of us these days. (That's not to say that I don't think Tudor is at all easy to dance -- some of the stuff in Jardin looks hard as hell!)

On the other hand, I'd easily trash all the Stanton Welch ballets in the world for some well-staged and enduring Tudor revivals. I'm so regretful I remember very little of his Romeo and Juliet. I remember being dismayed when ABT announced they were getting MacMillan's, because it seemed clear we wouldn't see Tudor's again. And, so far, we haven't.

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As early as the late 60s, Robert Joffrey realized that Tudor was being allowed to fade into the background like his shadows in Dim Lustre. He set upon a course of genteelly courting the choreographer, and obtained his consent to do "Sunflowers" for the Joffrey II dancers, and "Offenbach in the Underworld" for the main company.

Joffrey was a sort of collector. He loved to collect the Diaghilev ballets that might have become lost, principally those of Massine, with whom he had formed a good working relationship. Until the death of Hans Brenaa, there was a small but real collection of Bournonville in rep, and of course the Joffrey had the largest array of Ashton ballets outside of the Royal Ballet. It's too bad there aren't more of that type of Artistic Director about these days to collect and display "lost" classics.

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Mel, I had no idea the Joffrey did Sunflowers. I saw it once at Syracuse Ballet Theatre. Anthony Salantino, the AD, was close to Tudor. I remember it being a lovely piece, not as dark in tone as some of Tudor's work.

Given the kind of work ABT does now, maybe the dancers have lost the ability to tackle Tudor. Subtle emotion is not exactly a strong suit for many of them. But to be fair, the Lilac Garden two seasons ago had some nice performances.

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Joffrey II eventually acquired 'Continuo' and 'Little Improvisations'. I think both ballets were originally created for Julliard. For Joffrey II, they were staged by Maria Grandy with the use of Laban Notation. Mr. Tudor came to the final rehearsals to work with us.

He also worked with the main Joffrey company on 'Offenbach in the Underworld'.

Lucky us!

I saw ABT perform "Romeo and Juliet' in the late seventies. It was one of the most gorgeous ballets I've ever seen. Couldn't they get a grant to round up a lot of those dancers for a recontruction?

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In April of 1998 we had an all-Tudor program here in Milwaukee. It was a profound experience for me. I think the article I wrote about that performance gets at Tudor's importance, but also why he's not often seen any more. Tudor's is a sensibility we need right now, mostly because we don't even realize how much we need it any more. It's too late for me to translate that into English, sorry. FWIW here's the piece I did.

There is a truth within you and in your life that will sustain you. You are here to find it and share it.

That is the sort of thing you might hear at an especially enlightened therapy session or church. It is a rare sort of insight to encounter in a ballet, despite the fact that dance has been, since the dawn of time, a means of discovering and expressing personal truth. The four Antony Tudor ballets performed by the Milwaukee Ballet this week are distinctive in many ways, but unique in the manner in which they reach back to that prehistoric function of music and movement and apply it to our lives today.

Tudor was an English choreographer born in 1908. He produced ballets in London in the ‘30s under circumstances that could be described as challenging, if not crude. In 1939 he moved to the U.S. to join the American Ballet Theater in its first season and remained there until his death in 1987. He is revered for developing an unprecedented psychological, dramatic, depth in his dancers, both in rehearsal and in performance.

"This is not a normal ballet performance," said Basil Thompson, artistic director of the Milwaukee Ballet. That is unfortunate. Ballet in the U.S. has moved away from drama, to spectacle and athleticism. The situation is partly a vestige of dance as an imperial amusement and partly a marketing attempt to draw the circus crowd. Meanwhile we are entertained into a stupor while we are starved for involvement and meaning.

We have a singular opportunity this week to enjoy an technically gifted dance company, a live orchestra playing great music, and dramatic choreography presented by individuals well-versed in the Tudor tradition. Sallie Wilson and Donald Mahler, who are setting the ballets, along with Thompson and balletmistress Fiona Fuerstner, comprise as knowledgeable a convocation of experience with these dances as you are ever likely to see again.

You won’t need an esoteric background or Cliff’s notes to be delighted by this performance, either. Continuo is a compact celebration of beauty, The Judgement of Paris an essay on decadence' Dark Elegies is about grief, and Gala performance satirizes celebrity and elitism. They are all visually delightful, technically rich, brilliantly musical, and dramatic.

Continuo is the first on the program although Tudor created it 30 years after the other three. He choreographed this short piece in 1971 as an exercise for his students at Julliard shortly before his retirement from that institution. The music is Pachelbel’s lyrical "Canon in D".

The term "continuo" is a contraction of basso continuo, in which a repeated bass melody is echoed and filled by the other instruments. It’s a statement of how Tudor felt toward his dancers; his steady influence providing the foundation for their dance. The music and dance are fluid yet disciplined, baroque and Spartan, complex but pure, fleeting and eternal.

This is the sort of paradox that Tudor left us. The attention to detail and process that makes them difficult to re-create is exactly what makes them important and enduring. He had a reputation for a caustic wit and consistently demanded more from his people than they thought they could produce. Those who stayed with him sensed that the demands were not made to demean them, though, but to make them grow despite ambiguity and stress.

The Judgement of Paris sets the Greek myth in a French dive. Three girls compete for the attention of a customer who proceeds to drink himself into unconsciousness. The music is from Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera and the look is right out of Toulouse-Lautrec.

"This looks like the easiest one but it’s the hardest, because they have to find their characters," Sallie Wilson said. Imagine what a stretch it is for a dancer who has spent years perfecting every detail of her idealized image to play a fallen woman, who in turn represents a Greek goddess. The festive, sad music and a plot that is a total travesty of the conventions of courtly love complete the ironic tension.

Dark Elegies was created in 1917. It is about a community responding, individually and together, to the deaths of their children. The music is "Kindertotenlieder (Dead Children’s Songs)", written by Gustav Mahler to five poems by Friedrich Ruckert. The masterful use of gesture, stillness, and motion, communion and isolation, light and dark, a building storm followed by a resolving calm, make this a monumental statement. The whole effect is never one of contorted anguish or even of sadness, but of tragedy and dignity.

Ballet is a mythic narrative. It’s the stories your favorite grandparent told you. It is a suspension of rational thought, where any transformation is possible but the truths are eternal. Myth is our guide to times of rapid change. That’s why Diaghilev could dazzle the most sophisticated audiences in the world with simple fairy tales in the days before World War I. Tudor’s approach is different, but the goal is the same. Elegies is a story of the human spirit surviving the most excruciating of experiences in a time when we used compassion instead of Prozac. Empires have been built and crushed to dust since 1937, but this ballet-nothing more than a pattern of bodily movements and a series of sounds- endures.

In Gala Performance three great ballerinas - French, Italian, and Russian - have come to a small theater to perform. This piece can be read as a living treatise on the dance traditions (and eccentricities) of these three countries. It is also a richly humorous satire where Tudor warns us about taking ourselves too seriously and not taking art seriously enough. Finally it is an engaging play-within-a-play where even the audience has a role; we play the audience of 100 years ago.

Part of the challenge of writing about Tudor’s ballets is that he never told anyone what to think. he would be very specific about the details, steps, and gestures, but what everything meant was up to you. Ultimately this gives the work a heightened realism, a carefully prepared feeling of natural randomness. It is a still pond in which you can see both the beauty and the shortcomings of the world, and your own reflection.

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Oh pumukau, thank you SO much for posting that brilliant piece of writing! What an amazingly beautiful and insightful article about the great genius of Tudor. It made me realize all over again why I have always so loved his work. But I have never ever been able to articulate it, so it was heartening to hear that you also find it a challenge to write about his work. And what you said, in that last paragraph about the challenge being because he never told anyone what to think, also included the dancers. Instead he taught us how to think. He taught us how to develop a character that we understood, that we knew who we were, why we were there at that moment in time, and where we had come from. But he did not do it for us. He made us find it. It was an important part of his genius.

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Thanks Victoria. It's nice to have an excuse to go back and read my notes for that piece. I had immersed myself in the externals of the performance and wrote a first draft which I showed to Donald Mahler on the day before my deadline. He complimented me on it but said, politely, it completely missed the point. But he didn't tell me what the point was. A little panicky, I went home and slept but awoke at 3 in the morning with the first line in my mind, very clearly spoken to me by a man's voice. In fact I remember now that the dream said:

There is a truth within you and in your life that will sustain you. You cannot buy or sell this truth, because commerce depends upon scarcity, and truth is abundant beyond measure. You are here to find it and share it.

The rest of the article wrote itself. It was wonderful to have spent that time with so many dancers and their characters who were formed by this man.

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