Archive for April, 2011

Agnes de Mille’s Eulogy for Antony Tudor

April 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Agnes de Mille "Judgment of Paris" Photo credit: Carl Van Vechten

AGNES DE MILLE (1905-1993)

This is a sad day for us.  It’s a cruel day in many ways, but it’s an important day because I think it should be a day of decisions. 

It’s up to us who loved Tudor’s work to see that it lasts, and that it’s with us for a long time.  We talk about Tudor being immortal and he is, of course; that is, he has the possibility of being (so).  But we have to keep it that way.  We have to keep his works pristine, unblemished, strong, clear, just as he left them, and this is not easy.  This is very hard. 

Tudor’s work does not depend on pattern, although the patterning is superb.  It does not depend on technique, although there is a great deal of very difficult technique.  It depends on quality, and quality is a mysterious, even a spiritual word.  It’s a combination of attributes; it’s mind and heart, feeling, perception.

Today, dancers are not required to have these things. 

Sallie Wilson was just speaking about how Tudor required his dancers to become people.  All his performers were people.  It didn’t mean that they changed the choreography.  He wouldn’t have let that (happen).  But they brought to it the entire wealth of their own personalities.  Today this is not asked, it’s not even encouraged.  In fact, I don’t think it’s always permitted; and, I think it’s pretty damn dull.

The person to do this is, of course, before anyone else is Hugh Laing.  He has an infallible memory.  He has a beautiful eye.  His eye is unmated.  His taste is superb and he has the knowledge because he was with Tudor in his creative life since 1931, I think, which is a long-time.  Hugh was there, and Hugh helped.  Tudor himself has acknowledged Hugh was his critic, his censor, his editor, his spur, and his whip.  Hugh knows, and if Hugh can be prevailed upon, and I think he may, this will be an enormous service.  The other one is, of course, Sallie Wilson, who has been doing such valiant service up to now keeping the ballets in beautiful order. 

But there must be more, and they must train them.  I call upon them.  I call upon us.  Let’s get to work on this very seriously and thoughtfully because this is a treasure.  We’ve been blessed to have a real genius; a great, great artist.  We’ve known him, we’ve worked with him,  we’ve loved him good.  We have got to see that his works last.

I went to Ballet Theatre and I saw Dark Elegies; and I was struck (very well done by the way, very well done), and I was struck once more by how astonishing that ballet is.  It was created in 1937.  Tudor was young.  He’d never seen any modern dancing;  not Graham of course, not any of the Americans.  I don’t think (Mary) Wigman –she had one performance in London and it flopped.  There was Kreutzberg, but I never heard Tudor mention (Harald) Kreutzberg. No, no, this came right out of Tudor.  It was his feelings for peasants, for earth, for communal, simple expression.

And what is so remarkable here is the beautiful feeling for communal dancing.   It’s peasant dancing but there isn’t a single phrase of quoted imitation, not one.  It just is suggested in its marvelous patterns.  And he has (shown) what’s more the remarkable courtesy of simple people, one for another.  You’ll find that all through folk dancing around the world.  They are courteous to one another instinctively — the great courtesy of grieving, and suffering for (those) grieving and the suffering.  This is what makes this work so very poignant, so heart moving.  How did he know that?  He certainly never had a child. He never lost a child.  How did he know this?  Tudor knew.  Just as he knew everything he should have.

We were surprised, some of us, when Tudor became a Zen Buddhist.  We shouldn’t have been because the seeds of it are in that ballet.  Go and look.  You’ll see:  it’s there.  The thoughtfulness, the care for fellow beings, the decorum, the probity, the control, it’s all there.

When we see (Tudor’s) work we get not only a work of art but facets of life itself:  wider, larger and we see ourselves larger, more important, bigger,  more valuable; the horizon stretched out, and out, and out because he made a statement of absolute truth.