Home > Guest Blogger, Repetiteur > Guest Blogger: Donald Mahler

Guest Blogger: Donald Mahler

Donald Mahler recently returned from Denver where he staged Antony Tudor’s Echoing of Trumpets for the Colorado Ballet: (Performance/Ticket Info Here!)


Echoing of Trumpets, while ostensively about war, presents a unique vision of the effect of war upon the inhabitants of an occupied village (all women) and the occupiers (all men). We see these people through the extraordinary perception and understanding of Mr. Tudor’s genius. What starts out as a kind of  “cat and mouse” game gradually descends into a much more dangerous and desperate situation. As the ballet unfolds we see the strength of the soldiers become swallowed up by their callous cruelty while those they prey on in the end become in a sense the victors through their living through and overcoming their suffering. One is left with the feeling that life will go on with hope and dignity in spite of, or perhaps because of, their tragedy. It is greatly to Mr. Tudor’s credit that he can take a subject like this and through his deep understanding of human nature, wring the last ounce of emotion out of us and yet we feel somehow uplifted. The situation presented in this work is however, not unique to this village, but is universal. It applies to the larger global village and equally to the past and sadly probably to the present and the future as well.

This is the great difficulty and reward of working on this ballet.  To be able to bring the dancers into Mr. Tudor’s world is an enormous responsibility, by no means easy both for the person staging the work and the dancers themselves. I have to ask them not to be dancers but people, real people. Yes they must use their technique but not let us see it, a real problem! After being told all their careers to make the movements beautiful and even decorative I ask them to forget all that and above all to be totally natural. Walk like they are going to the supermarket and not to take a ballet class. And then there is the problem of “acting”. There is, I believe a profound misunderstanding about Tudor’s wishes on that subject. I have heard it said that he wanted the dancers only to do his choreography and not to “act”. I do not believe this is what he truly wanted. Of course, it is of prime importance to be faithful to the movements he has created, movements which form the strongest outline and basis for the character and dramatic situation. I believe that what he didn’t want was bad acting.  He looked for dynamic portrayals, coming from a true understanding of his work, but with an individual approach according to the individual dancer. Well this is a difficult subject and worthy of a separate discussion.

I haven’t mentioned music. Tudor was the most musical and subtle of choreographers with an enormous knowledge of music and the most amazing choice of and use of it. A great musician once said that the art lies not in the notes but in the spaces between the notes. This could just as well be true of Tudor’s musicality. His use of music is a great difficulty in staging his ballets. The work of the person teaching his ballets is to help the dancers to hear the music not just to listen to it. I have to confess that, especially with this work; I have had to defy the Mantra that Tudor never counted the music. To get the work done when there is never enough time these days and to be able to reach into the depth of the work, I feel that counting is often the only way to help the dancers to be able to hear the music. If I have sinned in this respect well, mea culpa.

The function of the répétiteur is not only to act as the overall director of the many aspects of the piece, but as the re-creator of the entire work. Not only to use the knowledge gained by past interpreters’ to enrich ones own experience but, to seek to go past the past and back to the act of creation itself. A difficult, perhaps impossible task, yet a process, a search which I feel needs to be done. Every rehearsal, every performance I feel should be as though it is being done for the first time yet, bearing in mind all of the past as part and parcel of the present. This is, for me, the way to keeping these works alive and vital.

In an age of worship of the hyper-physical, pyro-technical in dance, I recognize Colorado Ballet’s exceptional dedication to mastering the subtleties of Tudor’s work.  I credit Artistic Director, Gil Boggs, and Ballet Mistress, Sandra Brown, for training a company of unusually musical and perceptive dancers, very quick to hear what Tudor was trying to say and, for creating an environment that fosters theatrical and dramatic truth, unusual for dancers and dance companies of this time. In addition, Gil and Sandy have not only the experience of dancing Tudor’s ballets but also, most importantly, the love for them to make Colorado Ballet perhaps an ideal home for his work. I look forward to returning there in March to complete our work on “Echoing” and to seeing this great work come to life on the stage.

Donald Mahler, December 3, 2009

  1. Leslie Rotman
    January 13, 2010 at 7:56 pm | #1

    Donald, “Don’t count” is a Tudor quote repeated by every person ever to stage and teach in the Tudor style. But I think it must have been misunderstood and now is misinterpreted. We know what an accomplished musician Tudor was. If persuaded, he could have supplied counts for every movement, every phrase, in fact, every breath each dancer takes. How else to explain his unfailingly tidy musical choices? Each dance score I’ve notated supports our understanding that, at some point during his process, Tudor studied the counts, along with every other aspect of the music score. I’ve never come across a step without a beat, or a gesture without a corresponding musical cue. It’s all there if you look, often not the obvious choice, but always the inevitable one. Less will be lost over time if we learn the counts, so that we perform his phrasing as he intended, rather than in ways that are easy or familiar. It would be truer to teach, “don’t be robotic” or “internalize the rhythm”. I believe he wanted his dancers to know the music so well they didn’t need to apply the words “one, two, three” or “un, deux, trois”. What difference does it make how we identify the impulses privately, while we learn, as long as we become one with the whole thing in the end?

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