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ACTING FOR THE DANCER by Hilary Harper-Wilcoxen

November 15, 2011 Leave a comment

L'Academie Americaine de Dance de Paris -- Photo Credit: Vincent Desnoes

     Shut out — unable to buy a ticket to the Paris Opera’s performance of Othello because it was sold out; an opera! —  like a rock concert in the States. I doubted whether too many operas were ever sold out back home; maybe at the Met . . . maybe not.

     So why did I care? I had plenty to keep me busy while in Paris, but I was truly disappointed at not being able to see Othello, and I’m not even that big an opera fan. The answer was obvious: Othello is a great story, told by a master. I had recently seen the original Shakespeare version directed by that most quixotic and surprising of theatre/opera directors, Peter Sellars. I had loved it. Iago stayed with me, as did Desdemona. That’s my personal test of great theatre; does it change me while I’m at the theatre and, then, most important of all, does it stick with me months after — that performance had. So, what had made it so powerful? And then it hit me: the subtlety and complexity of Shakespeare’s Othello derives from the fact that his characters are human; they are rich, contradictory and layered; we can relate to them on a very personal level.

     This is not an article on Shakespeare, it is an article on ballet and ballet dancers. In this essay I will make the case for actor training for ballet dancers.  I will use examples from Antony Tudor’s work and my teaching experience and suggest that teaching ballet dancers to be strong actors is both necessary and teachable.

    Back to Shakespeare.  Here’s the connection: when ballet enables us to empathize fully with the characters we are watching we leave better for it; changed, challenged. However, and this is where the two diverge, when it is solely about beautiful bodies doing amazing things in fabulous costumes we do not necessarily leave with, as dance historian Judith Bennehum puts it, “ a heightened sense of who we are and what we represent”. This is a critical point, and one which I believe is often overlooked.

     Ballet is many things to many people. For me, it is a way to communicate without the need for speech; to find freedom through its seeming opposite — dedication and discipline; to approach universal ideals of beauty, control and grace. It is also a unique opportunity to engage others in thinking about the human condition, if approached with that intention. Unfortunately, it rarely is. Most ballets lack the emotional depth of Shakespeare; they are more interested in technique and less in character development. This should come as no surprise, given ballet’s origins when the importance of display and elegance often took precedence over the intrinsic potential of the art form. Of course, ballet has come a long way since Catherine de Medici and the court of the Sun King; but we can go further.

     In the world of ballet, the 20th century English choreographer Antony Tudor stands out as a shining example of a choreographer who went further, who got what Shakespeare was after: the turmoil and transcendent possibilities of the human condition; the inevitable consequences of both duty and selfishness, hope and despair.  Tudor brought real people to the stage through his characters, and had them reveal their inner lives to us, the audience, through the unlikely medium of classical ballet. Whether the ballet is about a forced marriage in Edwardian England (Jardin aux Lilas) or heinous war crimes during the German occupation in WWII (Echoing of Trumpets), we care about the story that is unfolding, care about the individual lives it reveals. Tudor accomplished what all great artists seek to accomplish: to make the story unfolding on stage relevant to the audience; to have them respond to the universal truths, trials, and triumphs which define each one of us.

     Tudor was also a master of comedy. Another mark of greatness for, through humour, we also find truth; often more easily, though not always less painfully. His comedies were poignant, sardonic peeks at the less glamorous side of things. From the ironic characterizations of diva ballerinas in Gala Performance   to the somewhat pathetic attempts at seduction in  Judgment of Paris  he saw with a laser-like eye what comedy always looks for– the asymmetry of life, the contradictions and the touching nuances . . . the unexpected.

     So where does all this take us? Although Tudor died in 1987 his work is consistently presented in such companies as American Ballet Theatre and throughout the world. He continues to be considered the “Stanislavsky of ballet “ a reference to the great Russian actor who founded the technique associated with honest gesture and powerful character development.  His musicality (The Leaves are Fading) and complex narrative (Pillar of Fire) are still stunning examples of a great artist’s work within the ballet genre. But his reputation is transient, as is so often the case in dance. Unlike the master works of visual artists, musicians and writers, ballets are quickly lost if not painstakingly videotaped and notated. The Antony Tudor Ballet Trust is doing an extraordinary job of preserving and sharing Tudor’s masterpieces under the energetic and visionary direction of Sally Brayley Bliss. This work is critical in large part because of Tudor’s masterly use of character. He is considered the Proust of ballet because of the strong development of narrative and character that identifies every masterpiece we know as “Tudor’s”.

     By contrast, many classical ballets use the characters involved as a way to move the plot along; to serve as scaffolding for the choreography. They don’t really matter, they simply exist as tools, not as people.

    On the other hand, Tudor has characters as real and tormented as any Lady Macbeth or Iago in almost every one of his dramatic ballets. Because of this ‘playwright-esque’ ability to create powerful characters within ballet choreography Tudor deserves to be studied in the same way as an art student studies (and copies) Rembrandt, or a music student Beethoven, or a theatre student, that’s right, Shakespeare. As it turns out, Mr. Tudor is the perfect choreographer for college and university dance programs because of his proclivity towards delving into deep, sociologically rich themes. For him it was not simply about technique or entertainment; it was about meaning. He meant for us to care about his narrative line, not simply follow it. It is the stuff of great literature, music and art — all of which he loved. It is still hard to define exactly where Tudor fits in today’s world of classical ballet, but he does clearly belong there; if nothing else, as an example of how it can be done . . . how it was done.

     My personal experience with Mr. Tudor goes back to my childhood. My mother studied with him both at Jacob’s Pillow and at the Metropolitan in NYC. She had been a theatre major in college and came to ballet quite late for a dancer. For exactly these reasons, Mr. Tudor was the perfect teacher for her. I grew up hearing stories about how he would single her out during class and say, “Now everyone, watch Trude run, she actually looks like she’s going somewhere! That’s what I want.” That interest in honest movement (movement that had a motivation and a need) was quintessential Tudor.

     Today’s dancers need that kind of attention to detail and motivation as much now as they did then. In our “continuous partial attention” 1  culture we can hardly wonder that our dancers seem lost when we ask them to fully engage in the moment . . . in one moment, not four scattered, disparate moments of multi-tasking-communication. The building blocks for powerfully projecting character on stage have not changed: To be fully in the moment; to be both kinesthetically and emotionally aware of your surroundings; to find honest gesture. These are skills I find are sorely lacking in most dancers these days. But they are skills, not gifts from above and, as such, I believe they can be learned.

     The lack of artistry or the inability to embody a character as a dancer, are common complaints among many dance professionals.  As a dance professor at Principia College (a small Midwestern, liberal arts college) I teach theatre movement, as well as dance, to both actors and dancers. I have observed this need for what I will call “artistry” first hand. I have also observed how it can be addressed, specifically for ballet dancers, but it can extend to all dancers. I believe that Antony Tudor’s oeuvre and legacy has much to teach us, and that exploring his work can bring illumination to the training of today’s dancers (and future choreographers); to make them artists, rather than simply athletes. I also believe, and have experienced this in my classes, that a combination of Laban Movement Analysis, Bartenieff Fundamentals, good old-fashioned Stanislavsky intention work and small doses of Alexander alignment can also work wonders.  

     For the last three summers I have had the privilege of guest teaching at L’Academie Americaine de Danse de Paris in the peaceful residential 16th  arr.  It has been a transformative experience as an artist/educator mainly because the Director, Brooke Desnoës, has allowed me autonomy in teaching the four week International Summer Intensive dancers in my “Acting for the Dancer” classes. Our philosophies for teaching dance are eerily similar. In her own words, “Respect, honesty and hard work are at the centre of everything we do. Classes are kept small and instructors get to know each student individually, in turn students are provided with encouragement and confidence to challenge themselves in new artistic ways.”

     Part of my guest teaching while at AADP included a traditional ballet class; this has enabled me to experiment with how best to coordinate the two so that the students learn in a circular pattern. The last two summers I introduced Laban’s eight effort actions, some Bartenieff Fundamentals and a few Alexander exercises. We did some character work with the Laban effort actions (i.e. wring, press and float to name a few), as I do with my theatre movement students. I also had the dancers do some work outside the classroom — observing gesture and movement in strangers.  This year, however, was the breakthrough.

     Having worked all year with the Tudor Trust Committee on the innovative Antony Tudor Dance Studies Curriculum for Colleges and Universities headed up by Sally Bliss, I was more fully aware of some aspects of Tudor’s work that I had not fully appreciated before. For one thing; his fascination with dancers who could embody their role was a defining factor in his process. This took me back to Tudor’s roots: he trained as an actor before he ever trained as a ballet dancer, and he studied music from a very young age. Therefore, I gave my dance students a scenario in which to work; something all actors are well acquainted with. We were not working with actual Tudor choreography as I am not a Tudor repetiteur, and, anyway, I wanted them to find honest gesture on their own to begin with . . .  to realize what that meant and how it felt; not an easy task for most ballet dancers.  Based on the concept that their movements should have meaning, should express something about the character they had chosen for themselves, I asked them to come up with pedestrian movement that was real. They were given a beginning, middle and end point, and a partner, but that was all.  This autonomy enabled them to have some ownership of the process, a key component in higher modes of learning. They also had to find a reason for their movement. I kept reminding them of the Tudor “mantra” which is to let the movement do the communicating and the facial expressions and other needed expression will follow. I had showed them excerpts from Jardin aux Lilas at the beginning of our time together and I kept referencing what they had seen, and playing bits of it again (specifically the opening scene) for clarification. They were not to recreate it, but to use it in their own work of creating honest gesture.

     They quickly learned to open up, to become less concerned with “getting it right” and more concerned with just doing it wholeheartedly. I explained that that sort of approach inevitably leads to honesty, as it is inherently honest.  As one student who had trouble finding expression in her dancing put it, “I learned that I must immerse my whole self and go past the point at which I feel “comfortable”.”2

     The final two days of classes included a scenario which I choreographed for them. The scenario follows:

     You are alone in a forest, sleeping; a noise wakes you; you get up and look for what it might have been. While  searching you are startled by another noise; you slowly move away but are drawn back to see if you can discover what it was; you do, and flee in horror, exiting stage left.

     I introduced this scenario in stages, giving some of the steps in technique class earlier on and then incorporating them into the final 72 count phrase. Repetition was critical as dancers are so accustomed to it, and especially need it when trying something new like this. Some of the comments from the group of older dancers with whom I worked the most are included below:

     From a French student: “Il faut effectuer les gestes sur scene sans les anticiper” or “You must not anticipate your gestures on stage.” 3 This idea of not anticipating what you know is coming is critical for honest responses on stage (sur scene). It is also very difficult and requires the dancer to understand and be able to recreate, time and again, the ability to be “in the moment” — a concept that seems harder for dancers to grasp than it is for actors. Perhaps it’s because, as my mentor in theatre movement Margaret Eginton from Asolo Conservatory explains, “dancers speak with steps and so need more in the moment preparation of their instrument   

    Another important piece of this puzzle is how dancers approach the work itself.  They are typically uncomfortable with “acting”. . . and rightly so. To be told to “Look happy now” or, “You need to look scared here” is very unnatural for dancers. They have been trained to do the steps well and to listen to the music, but mostly so that they will be on the beat with the others on stage; not as a catalyst for emotion. To graft onto a difficult combination of steps a feeling is hard for them and usually turns out badly; as I often say in class, “That was fake”.  We worked a lot with this issue right from the start. One of my students from the intensive puts it far better than I could:

       “I was never presented with the opportunity to be a character so fully that I truly felt I was that person. It is a completely different world.  Your exercises present dancers with a difficult challenge that is as much about self exploration as it is about discovering different characters. …I tried to embody the music. We learned to constantly dance in the moment and to observe those around us in order to comprehend the meaning or emotion behind a certain gesture.” 4

     As Desnoës puts it, “ “Incorporating “Acting for the Dancer” classes into the summer curriculum has helped the young dancers to get ever so close to that artistic freedom experienced when one “becomes” a character. It is delightful to watch their faces when they are able to feel that for the first time. I am certain that this connection between dance and feeling the character remains with them as they continue their dance studies and, more importantly, kindles the artistic process inside them.”

     That “artistic process” is really what this work is all about. It has a lot to do with both discovering how to become a character and to embody the music, that elusive element that was also a key concept throughout their training. To really hear and feel the music, not just count it is something of an anomaly for many dancers today. Like the character work, however, it can be learned. Many times I have found that all a dancer needs is explicit permission to “let the music move you” from the choreographer or teacher and they are eager to do so.  All of the dancers found a road they could travel to find expressive gesture and honest movement . . . my basic goals for the class. 

     Antony Tudor is not the only ballet choreographer who has ever worked to find honesty in movement; but using Mr. Tudor’s works as an example of where this can be found in classical ballet has been most helpful. For today’s college dancer the use of various techniques to achieve this end seems both logical and in tune with the ideals of a liberal arts education. In exploring these paths some of them came from reading or hearing about exercises Mr. Tudor had used in his technique classes; some I observed while Tudor repetiteurs Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner worked with my dancers at Principia College. Other ideas came from Margaret Eginton’s coaching and observing her classes and my graduate work on my MFA where my thesis was on how to incorporate Laban Movement Analysis in my work with actors and dancers. Years of teaching theatre movement, choreographing and teaching ballet have also informed this practice and lead me in new and different ways.

     The overarching goal of training more artistic dancers through giving them a way to find expressive gesture is ongoing. In this age, dancers in university programs need to have both a goal and a map: the goal is to be able to fully express any character they may be asked to embody through their movement. The map is a clearly articulated yet flexible set of exercises and approaches that enable the dancer to arrive at honest gesture and let go of self-imposed limitations and fears. I don’t know if Mr. Tudor would be pleased if we reached this goal, but I know I would.

  1. “Does America Have ADD?,” U.S. News and World Report, March 26,2001, 24.
  2. Camille Kemache at AADP workshop, summer 2011, Paris, France
  3. Fanny  Serenque at AADP workshop, summer 2011, Paris, France
  4. Mikkailla Bolotenko at AADP workshop, summer 2011, Paris, France

SALLY BLISS KEYNOTE CORPS DE BALLET INTERNATIONAL – JUNE 22, 2011

September 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Sally Brayley Bliss, Trustee

This speech is how my life, from very humble beginnings in Halifax, NS, Canada became interwoven with one of the great master choreographers of the 20th Century.

Antony Tudor: …my mother mentioned his name to me when I was a dance student, approximately ten years old.  My teachers were Latvian immigrants.  They were Russian trained and certainly had never heard of him.

Tudor was an important choreographer in my mother’s world.  I don’t know why she knew about him, but she was a true Balletomane, the name for lovers of Ballet in those days.  But she knew all about his ballets:  Lilac Garden, Dark Elegies, and more.  At that time in Canada, Celia Franca, a former dancer with The Rambert Ballet during Tudor’s time there who then went on to dance with The Royal Ballet, formerly called Sadler’s Wells Ballet, was brought to Canada to found a National Ballet.

Celia had worked with Tudor and danced in his ballets at Rambert.  She revered him.  Upon founding the NBC, besides the classical repertoire, she brought in four Tudor works:  Lilac Garden, Dark Elegies, Gala Performance, and Offenbach in the Underworld, a work he created for a small company in Philadelphia. Resetting it for Canada he developed and refined the work and it became an established ballet in NBC’s repertoire.  

I  joined the company and had the honor of dancing in 3 of those 4 ballets in the repertoire at that time.  My mother was to me amazing, having known of him from when he first arrived in the U.S., and opening my mind to this great choreographer, was pretty special. 

How interesting a young dancer, born in London, living in Nova Scotia, Canada in the late 40s, early 50s, by a twist of fate, meets this great chorographer of the 20th century; and how my life connected with him throughout my career!  He is the Godfather of my eldest son, Mark, and I have been given the task of sustaining his legacy for future generations of dancers.

I had six great years with NBC and decided I really wanted to move to NY to study.  I did visit New York before moving and I remember my first class with Tudor:  I stood in the back, hoping to hide, then I heard “Hey, Maple Leaf Forever, come up here!”  I was petrified!  How he knew I was from Canada so quickly I’ll never know.

I moved to New York in 1962 and was accepted as a dancer into the Metropolitan Opera Ballet.  At that time the new the Director of the Ballet, was Dame Alicia Markova, whom I loved.  She was funny, respectful, taught a terrible ballet class, but that was ok because we had most of our classes with Antony Tudor and Margaret Craske. 

I had the honor of dancing the Prelude from Les Sylphides with her coaching was me.  Remarkably, Les Sylphides was the very first ballet I saw at age 5.  Markova was dancing the same prelude, and here she was twenty years later coaching me in that same part.  Markova was a great friend of, guess who… ? Antony Tudor, who created the role of Juliet in his magnificent Romeo & Juliet for her. 

Markova created “Ballet Evenings” for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and they were creative with major ballets.  Our first evening was Les Sylphides, then small works such as Dolin’s Pas de Quartre, Petipa’s  Rose Adagio, and we closed with Folkine’s Scheherazade.  But the third ballet evening was very exciting.  Markova convinced Tudor to do the American premiere of his work Echoing of Trumpets that he created on the Royal Swedish Ballet.  But best of all she somehow convinced him to create a brand new work on us.  It was called Concerning Oracles and the evening ballet closed with Bournonville’s ballet, La Ventana.

This was maybe highlight of my life.  I was cast in both the Tudor ballets and La Ventana, and not only that, he had me learn every part in both ballets, except the little girl in Trumpets (I was 5’8”, and not a little girl type…).  For at least eight weeks we worked with him around the clock.  We would stop only to dance in the Opera Ballets, come off stage, and go to work until midnight (no unions at that time).  Can you imagine what an incredibly exciting learning experience this was for all of us?  This period is still in my memory.  In the end I danced the tough woman in Echoing of Trumpets, and an incredible pas de deux in Concerning Oracles.  In the last scene, Lance Westergard was a young boy; we were a family picnicking in a French garden.  I was an old, dowdy aunt and for some odd reason Lance dreamt of me as a sexy lady.  I stripped down from my dowdy clothes to a frilly, pink peignoir and we danced this pas de deux which kept building, and every time the audience was expecting Lance to lift me, I lifted him.  He was 5’5” and I was 5’8”.  It was hilarious and actually brought the house down.  Lance and I were totally in the dark while learning it.  We had no idea it was funny.  Imagine having a ballet by Antony Tudor created on you? 

During my tenure at the Met, there were highlights and lowlights: Franco Zeffirelli took me up to wardrobe and designed my costume for the opening night of the new Met’s Anthony & Cleopatra, with choreography by Alvin Ailey. 

In the ballet in the Opera La Pericole, I was dancing the lead, and the English actor, Cyril Richard, playing a comedic role, joined me in a partnered cartwheel at the ballet’s end; and, somehow he ended up on top of me, flat out, my tutu over my head.  We looked at each other and with no music, got up, did it again perfectly. 

The second opening of the new Met was La Giaconda.  It’s a long story, but my partner drank himself into oblivion and dropped me on every lift – a disaster – a moment I will never forget.  It’s funny now….

It was around this time I married Anthony Bliss and felt it important for me to leave the Met.  Tudor was about to restage Echoing of Trumpets for Ballet Theatre and convinced Lucia Chase to take me into the company, and I danced the same role – the tough woman

After one season, which was again a great experience, Robert Joffrey asked me to join his company to dance the leads in six ballets.  His Pas des desses, Taglioni, Arpino’s Viva Vilvaldi and Elegy, and Ruthanna Boris’s Cakewalk in the part of Venus, Balanchine’s Scotch Symphony, and Lew Christianson’s Jinx.  I couldn’t resist the offer and so accepted the invitation. I danced the season five months pregnant with my 1st son.

Under Robert Joffrey’s direction, I danced two seasons with NYCO as leading dancer in Joffrey’s Manon & Arabella, Frank Cosaro’s Trovatori and Prince Igor with Edward Villella. (I can’t remember for the life of me who choreographed…).

At that time the great dance educator, Lillian Moore, retired and Robert Joffrey asked Jonathan Watts and me (both of had just retired) to take over the apprentice program at The Joffrey School.  This turned into a very productive second company, The Joffrey II Dancers.  Jonathan left and for the next 15 years I developed a successful company of emerging dancers, choreographers, designers, composers and administrators. We did a number of Tudor ballets coached by Tudor himself.  We commissioned five new works a year, which we produced, and we did ballets by Joffrey and Arpino.  We toured many months of the year and many alumni went on to great success:  Eileen Brady, Billy Forsythe, Choo San Goh, Tina La Blanc, Elizabeth Parkinson, Glen Edgerton, to name but a few..

During the beginning of the 80s, I went down to the Joffrey School to pick new dancers (Bob had taken about eight of my 12).  I was intrigued by this young boy who jumped like an antelope.   He was very green but I liked him.  After I picked him I found out he was Ronald Reagan’s son, Ron.  That was a trip.  We lived through the campaign, secret service, the inauguration, Ron’s elopement, and the shooting of the President.  Ironically, we were on tour in “Lincoln” Nebraska the day it happened.  Ron went on to the 1st company and did well, but left for a more lucrative career in the media.

During this time I was on the board of NARB, later and now called RDA, where I adjudicated festivals – 2 in the PNW, one S.E., one N.E. and the mid-states for the 1st national conference.  I also taught at many of these festivals.  These festivals were a very important part of the development of dance in America.   

After these fifteen years, it was time for me to move on.  I continued teaching, advising, consulting, and making speeches, and my first love, encouraging young dancers and choreographers to continue in their profession.

In 1987 I was appointed by President Reagan to be a member of the National Council on the Arts for six years:  we were the Board of Directors for the NEA.  It was very hard work and a fragile time.  The right-wing wanted to do away with government funding for the Arts.  Jesse Helms was the outspoken hero for the right.  It was so stressful.  To be honest, with a lot of hard work the Endowments does still exist, but it remains tenuous.  That whole experience could be a speech on its own.  If nothing else, I learned one hell of a lot.  I’m honored to have been there but it was probably one of the most difficult experiences of my life.

My mentors, Antony Tudor, died in the spring of 1987; Alvin Ailey, died in 1988, and Robert Joffrey died in 1989; and my husband and father died in 1991, within a week of each other.  This time was sad for me, but it was a busy time and probably good.

Upon Tudor’s death, I was appointed co-executor of his Estate, and named sole Trustee of his ballets, which became The Antony Tudor Ballet Trust. This entails that his ballets are staged and performed as near to his expectations as possible.  I have répétiteurs who stage his works all over the world.

It is my mantra to make sure Tudor’s ballets are seen worldwide and never lose their artistic integrity.  His ballets are not about steps; they are about nuance, gesture, soul, quality of movement, and musicality.  The Trust has excellent répétiteurs, many of whom worked with Tudor when he was staging, creating and coaching.

We held a centennial conference at Juilliard, Lincoln Center, New York in 2008.  We had approximately 300 attendees.  It was very successful with Tudor classes, taught by former Tudor students; panel discussions with Tudor dancers and with writers and musicians; workshop performances of four of his works :  excerpts of Undertow, Juilliard; Little Improvisations, JKO School; Continuo, ABT II; and Judgment of Paris, New York Theatre Ballet.  We had a wonderful reception for everyone to get together, which culminated in a performance by the Juilliard students in his great masterpiece, Dark Elegies.  Maybe most special were the remembrances which we videotaped with each attendee, their thoughts and memories, many of which brought tears to our eyes; as did the remembrances of Tudor’s relatives, who traveled all the way from New Zealand to our event.

Out of this we have created a video of the event, and best of all a book.  If you are interested, we have them for sale on our website http://antonytudor.org/store.html. The proceeds for the sale of this book and DVD will fund an endowed scholarship in Tudor’s name at Juilliard.

We are at this time developing and launching The Antony Tudor Dance Studies Curriculum for college and university dance programs.  We will discuss this tomorrow.

In 1995 I was asked to be Executive Director of Dance St. Louis, one of the few dance only presenters in the country.  We started a unique educational program throughout the state.  We raised funds to bring all kinds of dance to St. Louis, the best in every field:  Rennee Harris, HipHop; ABT, full length Romeo & Juliet; Nacho Duardo’s company from Madrid; Paul Taylor; Hubbard Street; San Francisco Ballet; The National Ballet of Mexico; Tango Times II; Groupo Corpo, Brazil; Sydney Dance Theatre; Miami City Ballet; Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre; Mark Morris; and Pibololus.  We brought these companies back many times during my tenure, and through this work we developed a very intelligent dance audience.  They know what’s good and bad.  I’m proud of this legacy.  What is really important is that there is dance audience out there – east coast, west coast and mid-states.

Before I close, I’ve had the honor of serving on many Boards including: The Board of The Joffrey Ballet; Chairman of the Board of Visitors of the North Carolina School of the Arts; Board of Trustees of New England College, Henniker, New Hampshire; Advisory Board of the Kathryn and Gilbert Miller Health Institute for Performing Artists; The Dance USA Board, and The Paul Taylor Dance Company, among others.  I’ve been thrilled to receive many wonderful national and local awards as well. 

Antony Tudor has been the thread throughout our life in dance.  Are we lucky?  Yes!  Are we finished?  No!  There is always so much more to do.  This is my “Examining of Tradition and Innovation” throughout our careers, and Antony Tudor is the legacy.  We want his legacy to continue forever.  He was a genius and he must not be forgotten.

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Paula Weber, CORPS de Ballet President on Tudor Curriculum

June 14, 2011 Leave a comment

What most intrigues you about Tudor’s teachings?  His incredible insight to human emotion and the way Tudor conveys this in his dances.  He knew how to touch the soul both in tragedy and comedy.  His ballets are timeless.  It is absolutely imperative that these works are never lost!!

Why is an Antony Tudor Dance Studies Curriculum necessary?  I feel that in today’s social media world we all spend a large amount of time in front of a screen – especially our young people who are so “connected.” I find it hard to reach the emotional quality that is so important for dance/dancers. Their eyes seem to have that glazed over “computer screen” look. Perhaps by studying the master of emotional sense through the Tudor Curriculum, students can bring heart back to their work by getting in touch with the most important part of dance – personal connection, personal feeling, the personal communication that happens between a dancer and the audience.

Accreditation ensures that the education provided by institutions of higher learning meets acceptable levels of quality.  How will the conference further that purpose?  The beauty of the CORPS de Ballet International Conference is the interaction of a membership of 90+ dance professors and representatives of approximately 50 colleges, universities and professional schools. It is our time for renewal, recharging, networking, and learning. Those attending the conference will learn directly about the Antony Tudor Dance Studies Curriculum and have the wonderful opportunity to work directly with Sally Brayley Bliss and the committee of scholars and répétiteurs. Even those members who don’t attend the conference will have the opportunity to learn about the curriculum through the CORPS website and the members’ forum. The knowledge we gain by this opportunity will be shared with our students and open doors for the Tudor curriculum group to have residencies at many of our schools. Exposing our dance students to the teachings of Antony Tudor is not only an historical experience, but also a rare dance training experience – Tudor was a master, and as with all great works projects, the intellectual growth and exposure to the artistry of the masters vastly enhances the education of our students. This exposure to such art is the quality of education that is absolutely essential as it fosters discovery, creativity and learning of the highest caliber.

What are the advantages to artist-in-residency programs for students, as opposed to summer institutes to train trainers, for example, or other methods of delivery?  I feel artist-in-residency programs are far more intensive to learning the art of dance.  They are more one-on-one, more in-depth.  The passing of knowledge becomes more multi-dimensional and detailed.  The experience is highly specialized, creating strong foundations of discipline and craft.

What evaluations do you use to assess the success of existing dance curriculums?  I feel assessment is judged by the success of our students upon graduation, and determined by what we bring to students during their four years of study with us – the curriculum (dance training, dance academics, general/specialized academics), performance opportunity, professional performance opportunity while in school, exposure to the masters and great works projects, residency projects and guest artist projects. Our degree is a BFA in performance and choreography.

Paula Weber is Chair of the Dance Division and a professor of dance with UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance. 

Kathleen Moore-Tovar: Antony Tudor Reflections

December 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Kathleen Moore-Tovar (Photo by Valerie Ford)

I knew two Mr. Tudors. The first one was the one who chose me to work with Ethan Brown to dance the last pas de deux in Leaves are Fading and to dance the 4th song in Dark Elegies. This man of elegant bearing had eyes that sparkled with wit and mischievousness. Though there was always serious work happening in the studio as he tried to get us to simplify our movement, to dance the steps just as they were, adding nothing, he would tease and joke too. For example, early on in rehearsing Leaves he said to Ethan, “I bet she’s a screamer.” Though my face turned as scarlet as my hair, I replied, “Ethan wouldn’t know.” and Ethan said something to the effect of, “I’d like to find out!” and we all had a laugh. Then we got back to working on making the last embrace in the duet have more of a passionate gasp. 

In Dark Elegies, there wasn’t the lightness of mood in the room as during Leaves rehearsals, the dance has too strong a subject, but there was still the constant work on lack of ornament in the body, and always, always, the focus on the music. Another aspect of working with Mr. Tudor was apparent during Elegies, the way he directed us as we toiled on the piece, created in the cast a great sense of community that allowed the work to be the powerful statement that he intended.  I am sure his process was intentional; a method used to create individuals deeply invested in the dance and each other so as to better attain the intent of his vision. This ballet remains my favorite work of his that I have danced.

The second Mr. Tudor was the man who picked me out of the corps de ballet to revive the role of Hagar in his masterpiece Pillar of Fire. Almost from the first day this was a torturous period in my career. He sat ram-rod straight at the front of the room, severe and never satisfied. He spoke little, having Sallie Wilson and Hugh Laing do much of the work, which created even more distance from him. He questioned me and never was my answer correct. He would have me spend almost an hour on one step, where again I would fail. I was often reduced to tears that I tried to shed only on my five minute break in a hall closet, refusing to give him the “pleasure” of seeing me cry. Throughout, Michael Owen was my support as well as my character’s support. Again I believe the whole process was intentional; Mr. Tudor tried to make me feel Hagar, find the truth of her with every fiber in my being. To this day, when I hear the Schoenberg music, my stomach tightens in response and I feel insecure and without options (despite the redemptive ending!). Since he died shortly before our premiere, I still wonder if he would have been satisfied with our performances, though I did have the honor of having Oliver Smith come backstage and tell me I had done well… so maybe?

Without a doubt Mr. Tudor positively influenced my approach to all future work I had at ABT and with The White Oak Dance Project. Though times with him were mostly difficult, whether physically or emotionally, I am thankful that I was given the opportunity to work with him relatively early in my career. Since he died when I was only 24 years old, I have fewer memories to remember him by than many others, but two I treasure are these: The first is merely a snapshot, perhaps the first time I saw him up close…he was sitting on one of the simple wooden benches that line the halls on the 2nd floor at ABT’s 890 studios. His hands were loosely clasped in his lap, his spine was erect but not stiff, his chiseled looking bald head was tilted in thought. He radiated the stature, grace and easy command of a high priest. There was power there. My second memory comes from that magical yet nervous time in the theatre…I was on the stage at the Metropolitan Opera House around 6:15 pm, with the big, golden, silk curtain open and house lights illuminating the red velvet chairs so soon to be full of a discriminating audience. With my hair slicked back into a sleek low bun for my upcoming premiere of Leaves but with no stage makeup on yet, I was going through every moment of the piece, my blood full of butterflies. Mr. Tudor quietly crossed from downstage left to right, looking straight ahead. At quarter, before his exit, he turned slightly towards me, ran his hand across his head as if running it through his hair, and with a slight smile he said, “Looking like me tonight?” and then he continued on.

Chris Palmer: Tudor’s Great Nephew

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Susan Bates and Christopher Palmer, Tudor's Great Niece and Nephew, courtesy Chris Palmer

Thanks to the new Tudor website, we learned that the NZ School of Dance was to perform an open rehearsal of Continuo and Lilac Garden in New Zealand. 

 This was a perfect opportunity for my mother, Tudor’s niece Connaught Palmer (nee Cook) to finally see some of the great Tudor works at her back door.  Mum has recently recovered from a hip replacement and the two and a half hour drive from Whangarei to Auckland with an additional one and a half hour flight from Auckland to Wellington is now within her travel capabilities.   (Wellington is NZ’s capital, located at the bottom of the North Island).  Whangarei, where the majority of the Cook relatives reside, is at the very top of the North Island.

Adria Rolnik and Tara McBride from The Tudor Trust kindly provided us additional contact information for the NZ School of Dance (Garry Trinder).  Garry kindly invited us to the performance and provided all the necessary details to help us arrange our short visit to Wellington.

Mum was an aspiring ballerina in her early years and had frequent correspondence

 with her Uncle Antony over the years.  While she was in the city she also planned to visit with her ballet teacher whom resides in the hills overlooking the Wellington Harbour port, Lola Short-Jenkin.  Lola is now 83 years old, and Lola’s ballet teacher also in Wellington is now 93 – but now not teaching!

We were informed Senior Repetiteur Donald Mahler from The Tudor Trust was coming to New Zealand to help the students “learn and understand each of the chosen Tudor ballets.”   This was a real coup for NZ School of Dance to obtain a man of Mahler’s calibre.  We were also not going to miss this fantastic opportunity. 

Garry Trinder and his team at the NZ School of Dance made us feel very welcome when we arrived.  Prior to the

Rehearsing Lilac Garden - NZ School of Dance; L-R, Emmi Coupe, Helio Lima, courtesy Donald Mahler

performance I secretly had concern about the capacity of the NZ School to perform such works.   I knew the complexity of performing Tudor ballets even to an unqualified, unprofessional critic such as myself! I had particular concern with Lilac Garden.  Donald Mahler only had a matter of weeks to get these young students to understand the personalities of the chosen characters let alone master the choreography….however, to great surprise my concern was proved unfounded and the performance of Lilac Garden was superb!

Donald engaged these young artists whom unselfishly committed themselves to devoted learning from a true sculptor and master artist.  He moulded these young respectful bodies and minds in a few short weeks into a truly memorable and yet again emotional performance. Without props or costumes they performed this work to a level of maturity and commitment well advance of their true years. It was obvious to us all they had taken and realised their opportunity to work with a master craftsman on the ballet masterpiece.

The performance of Lilac Garden was simply astounding and made us very proud to be Kiwi’s. Tears welled during and after the performance. We had all witnessed something special this day! Donald and the students and NZ School of Dance can be very satisfied.

Connaught Palmer, Tudor's niece with Donald Mahler, courtesy Donald Mahler

We thanked Donald Mahler, Garry Trinder and the young dancers from the School, and my mother presented the School a framed picture of Antony and her father and mother Bob & Mollie Cook taken in New Zealand. The School planned to place this on their wall in the dance studio. This was a very special day and memory for us all particularly my mother and we thank those involved for making this happen.

Last week we gratefully received the Tudor Centennial book and DVD.   I must confess that I read the book from top to bottom the very next morning! I found the book beautifully presented as one would expect from those representing The Tudor Trust on the Centennial project.  We have learned new information from the book about our Uncle, Great Uncle, and it is certainly the type of book we will pick up and read time and again. I particularly enjoyed the story from Joan Myers Brown “his sense of humour only touched upon his kindness.” I am so very proud that our family member was one to openly reject inequality, challenge perspective and perception, and seek and inspire the thirst for perfection including honesty with oneself. The DVD Centennial Celebration is a fitting tribute to a man who gave so much of himself to the world of ballet and others. 

From my perspective (and I do clearly have natural bias), Tudor’s work is so incredibly beautiful, thought provoking,

Connaught Cook Palmer & her ballet teacher Lola Short-Jenkin in Lola's home, Wellington NZ

 provocative – still necessary in 2010.  It is clearly evident from the Centennial DVD compilation that he lives on in so

In kind Tudor, perhaps underestimated his impact on the world, perhaps it took time for others to “understand” what he was about and what he was creating.  While his mortal form has long since passed I’m confident after watching the DVD his thinking has not!

Kirk Peterson on The Royal Ballet School’s Performance of Lilac Garden

August 16, 2010 Leave a comment

During one of my residences at The Royal Ballet School in London, Gailene Stock, Director of The Royal Ballet School, asked me if I thought that the senior students in the Upper School of The Royal Ballet could tackle Antony Tudor’s “Lilac Garden.  As a professional dancer, Gailene had had a rather extraordinary experience with Mr.Tudor when he cast her as Hagar in his masterpiece “Pillar of Fire” and (Gailene) was in his “The Divine Horsemen” with the Australian Ballet.

Kirk Peterson

Working with Mr. Tudor was a career altering experience for Gailene and an event that affected her extraordinarily and remained with her for her entire career.  Having developed an enormous respect for Mr. Tudor and a deeply felt love for his work, she wanted her charges at The Royal Ballet School to experience the work of this great 20th century master.

“Lilac Garden”, although only 15 to 17 minutes long, depending on the conductor and violinist, is not a ballet Mr. Tudor gave his permission for anyone to perform lightly.  Having worked with The Royal Ballet senior students for a number of years now, I was familiar with each year’s student’s capabilities and I felt that, although perhaps a bit of a stretch for them emotionally, they were capable of essaying this unique challenge and felt that it could be an incredible learning experience for them.  After further conversations with Sally Bliss, she agreed to my being able to set “Lilac Garden” for Gailene Stock and the senior students of The Royal Ballet School and she agreed with me that this could be an amazing learning experience for them.

Royal Ballet School, 2010 End of Year Performance of Lilac Garden. Photo by Johan Persson

Indeed in rehearsals this turned out to be the case and it is a testament to Gailene’s leadership that the students were incredibly focused and approached the challenge like seasoned professionals.   Introducing new dancers to Mr. Tudor’s work is always a great responsibility and they accepted this challenge with open minds.

Just before my trip to London, an Icelandic volcano decided to erupt and created a vast Northern European ash cloud that wreaked havoc with all air travel to that area and I ended up having to wait a full week before I could get to London, consequently compressing my rehearsal period to two rather than three weeks.

If the students had not been so focused and prepared for an intensely compressed learning experience, I doubt that it could have actually been accomplished with the kind of detail required of Mr. Tudor’s works.  And I was also given extra rehearsal time as a result of this unexpected volcanic interruption. Yet, focused they were and they did a remarkable job of honing in on my insistent and perpetual fine-tuning.

Luckily for me I had worked intimately with Sallie Wilson and Donald Mahler on “Lilac Garden” and of course for seven years on and off with Mr. Tudor himself and was able to rapidly impart much of that accumulated knowledge in a concentrated manner.  I left London feeling a bit anxious about my not having more time with the dancers, but felt confident leaving it in the hands of Gary Norman and Petal Miller- Ashmole who were my assistants during this intense rehearsal period.

Although the dancers were scheduled to perform “Lilac Garden” in the smaller Linbury Theatre at Covent Garden on June 30th, July 1st and July 3rd, they were not going to perform it with full sets and music until their Annual Matinee performance at the Royal Opera House on July 11th, 2010.  I must thank Brian Sciarra for his invaluable help in offering his lighting plot for these performances as he so masterfully created them for us when Donald Mahler staged “Lilac Garden” for the ABT Studio Company when I was Artistic Director there.

I was brought back to London for an extra week of rehearsals leading up to the end of year performances because of the generous sponsorship of Ricki Gail Conway and was able to complete most of the coaching required of so subtle and demanding a work.

“Lilac Garden” is a ballet who’s integrity as a ballet can disappear as rapidly as alight mist in the sun without attention to its subtle musicality and to period awareness of its specific motivations and in my return, I was able to point them

Royal Ballet School, 2010 End of Year Performance of Lilac Garden. Photo by Johan Persson

more thoroughly in that direction.

I find that many dancers today rarely focus on choreographic details necessary for the execution of heritage works, but this was not the case with these dancers.

At the end of my first visit, the dancers performed an in-house dress rehearsal at the newly refurbished White Lodge Lower School before an invited audience which included many of their teachers and young colleagues and supported by Sarasin and Partners at the charming new Margot Fonteyne Theatre.  An added excitement for the young cast was the unexpected attendance of Anthony Dowell who had danced the Lover in “Lilac Garden” with Antoinette Sibley when Mr. Tudor himself had staged it for The Royal Ballet in 1968.  Although this was Mr. Tudor’s only personal visit for “Lilac Garden” to The Royal Ballet, Sallie Wilson had later staged it with Sylvie Guillem as Caroline, an event that Sallie had later discussed with Donald Mahler and I in some detail.

But this was the first time The Royal Ballet School attempted to grapple with the subtleties of such an interesting, emotionally charged ballet.  And I believe that they had a very rewarding time being introduced to the work of a great 20th century choreographic master, yet another defining aspect of their superb Royal Ballet School education.

Of course there was much else for them to perform and this was their graduation celebration and the year end performance for the entire school. One could sense the electricity in the air.  Numerous people, both from the School and others, expressed to me the joy of being able to see this wonderful ballet again and were looking forward with great anticipation to the performance, especially with live music and sets.   This of course served to make me feel even more responsible to the memory and work of Mr. Tudor.

The time finally came for The Opera House performance.  The conductor, Paul Murphy, had come to a number of the previous week’s rehearsals along with the wonderful violinist, Sergey Levitin, and a symbiotic relationship began to develop which added the necessary coordination needed for the subtle musicality to blossom from the essential artistic marriage of dancer and musician.

In the Grand Tier, I sat between Gailene Stock, the Marchioness of Douro (The Royal Ballet School’s Chairman) and around us were Jay Jolly, Sir Anthony Dowell, Anya Linden (The Lady Sainsbury), Alexander Grant, Wayne Sleep and numerous other supporters of this exciting annual event where the future can be seen to great advantage on The Royal Opera House stage, one of the great performance venues in the world.

Royal Ballet School, 2010 End of Year Performance of Lilac Garden. Photo by Johan Persson

I am so very happy to say that this performance of “Lilac Garden”, still an inexplicable rarity in London, the place of its birth, went extremely well, and that the four leads did quite a wonderful job bringing this extraordinary ballet back to the London stage.  In particular I must say that Her Lover, danced by William Bracewell and Caroline, danced by Angela Wood were particularly suited to these roles.  What a wonderful way to experience simultaneously a close to and a beginning of the next phase of their lives in the ballet world.

I was both happy and sad to leave London once again.  Happy to have seen “Lilac Garden” on The Royal Opera House stage and to have been involved once again with The Royal Ballet School’s Annual Matinee, yet sad to leave London, one of my favorite cities in the world and having to say goodbye to many old and new friends.

I must also express gratitude to International Dance Supplies and the Leche Trust along with Ricki Gail Conway for making all of this possible.

In closing I can only hope that Mr.Tudor would have been pleased with the results.  I certainly felt honored to also have been able to bring this glorious ballet back to The Royal Opera House stage.  But then he most certainly would not have let anyone know his true feelings.  We can only live in speculation.

Sally Brayley Bliss: State of the Trust

July 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Sally Brayley Bliss Accepting Visionary Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award

So much has been happening with The Trust that it’s time to update everyone.I’ll go back to mid-March with Colorado Ballet’s excellent performance of Tudor’s Echoing of Trumpets. This great ballet does not get performed often. Some people worry about the subject: war. To me, it is a timeless work and very apropos. It is with great respect that I applaud Gil Boggs, Director of Colorado Ballet for presenting Echoing of Trumpets. Donald Mahler did an exceptional restaging of the work. The dancers really rose to the occasion and danced with a rare sensitivity, intelligence; and, brought such life to the work. Bravo to Gil Boggs, his staff, and dancers for their great performances.

I returned to St. Louis and continued working on Little Improvisations with COCA (Center Of Creative Arts), a very good performing arts school which has developed a much improved dance program. They did a fine job with Little Improvisations. There were 3 casts of girls and one boy who danced all performances. I was so proud of these young dancers (see pictures). This wasCOCA’s first time to work on a master choreographer’s ballet. For me, the fulfillment of seeing these young dancers develop from their first rehearsal through their performances was amazing. Again, having intelligence, while learning and dancing a Tudor ballet, is of vital importance. These dancers were totally there.

COCA Dancers in Little Improvisations. Photo by Cyndy Maasen

A perfect segue into my next report: two marathon meetings on my daunting idea to create a Tudor curriculum for university, college and conservatory dance programs. As I’ve travelled from universities to colleges through the years, I realized how perfect Tudor’s ballets (not all), his classes, his production classes, his use of music, and his use of gesture, and, the drama of his works, are a natural for dance programs. So here we are, and a lot of Tudor dancers agree, it might work. A year from now we would like to launch with the CORPS (Council of Organized Researchers for Pedagogical Study) Conference, June 22-25, 2011, Kansas/ City, MO headed by University of Missouri, Kansas, Dance Chair, and President of this organization, Paula Weber. This school will implement the program and test the Tudor Curriculum. They will learn & perform Dark Elegies as part of the pilot program.

The Curriculum Committee is myself, Sally Brayley Bliss, Trustee, The Antony Tudor Ballet Trust; Hilary Harper-Wilcoxen, Chair, Dance Program, Principia College, Ilsa, IL; Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal, Ballet Faculty, Washington University; James Jordan, Repetiteur, Tudor Trust & Ballet Master, Kansas City Ballet; and, Amanda McKerrow, Repetiteur, Tudor Trust. As we develop we will add university/college/conservatory dance faculty and Chairs. This is a taste of what is in the future. As we move along we will keep updating you.

COCA Dancers in Little Improvisations. Photo by Cyndy Maasen

A few other items to report: I was honored to be given St. Louis’s Grand Center Visionary Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts. I was thrilled to be included among so many distinguish artists and supporters of the Arts.

I am on the board of the “National Society of Arts and Letters,” and will be heading up a committee of former dancers in their choreography competition in February of 2010.

I was also on an adjudication committee for Grand Center’s September 25thDancing in the Streets” here in St. Louis. It will be its fourth year and plethora of dance companies and schools will perform on four different stages in the Arts area called Grand Center. It lasts all day into the evening. Thousands of people turn out, not only from St. Louis but from other states, towns and cities. It’s a grand event. Most importantly, it introduces dance to a non-dance audience and, hopefully, develops tastes of new audiences for the future.

I’m now in Prince Edward Island, Canada, my summer home for over 40 years. It’s beautiful (As you may have seen on Regis & Kelly recently!) I’m working on all the projects you have just read about. I’ll keep you all updated as best I can.

Sally Brayley Bliss

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