Antony Tudor and the Fragility of Dance

American Ballet Theatre has dedicated its season to Antony Tudor; the occasion is his centenary, which actually falls on April 4, 2009, but it's the overall season that counts, I guess. The apex of the celebration in New York this fall came on the next-to-last night of the company's three-week stand at the City Center, when five Tudor ballets were presented: no intermission, but instead the dances were interspersed with film footage. Every Tudor work being offered this fall was on display, except for "The Leaves Are Fading."

The ballets ranged -- not in this order -- from a little tired (the too campy, or too campily restaged, "Judgment of Paris") to the blandly classical "Continuo" (prized by classicist critics uncomfortable with an excessive emphasis on Tudor's psychological side) to the tantalizing (a duet from "Romeo and Juliet," set not to Prokofiev but to Delius; apparently a full revival is next to impossible) to the magisterial ("Lilac Garden" and "Pillar of Fire").

Those last two date from 1936 and 1942, and are fully representative of Tudor's gifts for investing movement with psychological meaning. Set respectively to Chausson's "Poeme" and Schoenberg's "Transfigured Night," they ally great music with subtly, powerfully drawn portrayals of personal torment. They are beautiful ballets, and they were lovingly recreated. Kirk Peterson was responsible for "Lilac Garden," and Julie Kent was deepy touching as a woman torn between love and propiety. Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner did "Pillar of Fire," and here Gillian Murphy, David Hallberg and Marcelo Gomes were all compelling, as the central trio, with a special nod to Murphy's fluidity and grace. They both looked a bit of their time, but as such they had historical authenticity. And they hold up strongly as timeless choreography.

Yet there are so many missing Tudor ballets, not missing because ABT chose not to revive them so much as because they were imperfectly preserved. Apparently Tudor only really trusted the hands-on transmission of his dances by dancers who had danced them. Those chains have had their weak links, or companies didn't choose to restudy the ballets when the key dancers were still there to work with their younger peers.

It makes one realize all over again how fragile choreogaphy can be, even in this age of refined dance notation and video. That fragility means much is lost, or blurred in revival. But the loss just might also serve as a compensatory spur to appreciating great choreography we see now more acutely and intensely.

Maybe, though, there is indeed more Tudor to revive, starting with that "Romeo." If so ABT, which has been the primary keeper of the Tudor flame, is the company to do it. Its Tudor celebration this fall was a fine start. 

November 6, 2008 4:27 PM | | Comments (1)


There has been, ever since I started listening, a great deal of resignation and occasional teeth gnashing about the fact that ballets and dances are 'lost to history' or some such phrase. I agree that dance is fragile, and that it takes a special effort to preserve the dances that have been made so that people can enjoy them again. There is a lot of effort that goes into making dances, and to rehearsing them, and performing them. The idea that they would then just vanish into thin air is seriously depressing sometimes. I would put forth the argument, however, that because the dances are impermanent, they should be treasured and relished in the moment more than we are currently. The dance community should not, I posit, try to emphasize the continuation of a dance after it has been created, but instead, draw the public into the theater with the idea of "if you don't come now, you'll never see it again. Never. Each show is a once in a life time experience, so get down here and see it."
There has for years been the accusation that "classical music is dying." It started with the advent of recorded music. Being able to have a stereo system that can play Sibelius whenever someone wants to hear it is not a motivation to go to Orchestra Hall. The idea that dances will be repeated, over and over for eternity, may not be a good one. Dances, like dancers, should have a time when they are on stage, and a time when they leave the stage to allow the next group to get on. Go, see Tudor. This may be the last time you ever get the chance to see it. Ever.


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