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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. 

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. 

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Jonas Kåge on the “Magic” of Tudor Ballets

March 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Jonas Kåge and Gelsey Kirkland

I have experienced Tudor in one way or another throughout my professional life.

My roots are with the Royal Swedish Ballet where Tudor was director in the 60’s and I was a student at the Royal Swedish ballet school.  He created Echoing of Trumpets for the Royal Swedish Ballet and staged many of his works for the company. I remember watching performances and have very strong impressions of Echoing of Trumpets, Romeo and Juliet and Pillar of Fire.  I was a clean slate and what was written on that slate remains today.

Tudor created Leaves are Fading for ABT in the 70’s with Gelsey (Kirkland) and me being particularly featured. Tudor worked intensely and quickly, comparatively speaking, and was incredibly nervous having not created a new ballet for years.  To see him reach deep into himself and pull out what he did was heart rendering for all of us involved. 

During my time as Director of Ballet West from 1997-2006, I added several of his ballets to the repertory.   I took the opportunity to expose what I feel are important, relevant and challenging ballets for the public and dancers of today.

 Ballet West brought an evening of Tudor’s works to the Edinburgh Festival: Leaves, Offenbach in the Underworld, and Lilac Garden. For my last premiere at Ballet West, Echoing of Trumpets was revived, a masterpiece that made a fresh and powerful impression.

Like with all dance works that have become classics, every new generation will discover and appreciate their magic. The characteristics of Tudor’s work and genius would appear quite narrow in today’s dance spectrum, and yet as his prism of works slides into view they shine like strong and bright beacons. The ballets often deal with human relations, conflicts, as well as social issues and will therefore always be relevant – I must add that I am always amazed by the technique required.

Although his works are often psychologically complex, Tudor manages to portray the emotion in a musical score with brilliant simplicity. I find that most of his ballets and his choreographic style have managed to avoid trends and clichés.  Or is it that he was completely uninterested and unaffected by trends? I tend to think so.

The strongest validation of his work today is that the young generation of dancers embraces his works wholeheartedly. Perhaps tentatively at first, as the language is, for them, subtle and full of nuances, but as they become fully introduced and begin to perform the works they acquire a new and deeper side to their artistry. These are ballets for thinking and intelligent dancers and for an adult audience. That ballet is an adult art form is often a revelation for many. 

That this unusual man would choreograph, what are the chances? And that his works would be so brilliant and have the ability to speak to a wide range of ages, backgrounds and nationalities is in many ways unique. Talk about Dance Theater!

Jonas Kåge

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Diana Byer, Artistic Director of New York Theatre Ballet, on Coaching Lilac Garden for American Ballet Theatre:

February 14, 2011 Leave a comment

What could be more exciting than getting a phone call from Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director of American Ballet Theatre, asking me to assist him in restaging and coaching Antony Tudor’s Lilac Garden. It was a gratifying experience in every way.

To spark interest in the cast before rehearsals I made a few copies of the 1963 Dance Perspectives two-part series on Tudor as well as a short essay Tudor wrote on Lilac Garden.  Once we began rehearsals I also brought in two copies of Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares for the cast to share.

I realized after the first rehearsal that the challenge for me was how to give the dancers insight into their characters, not just work on the overall shape of the ballet, the steps and spacing.  ABT’s dancers are exquisitely talented with strong, clear ballet skill.  How would I encourage them to empty their minds of technique and let only the movement enter, what would I do to get them to become their character rather than act it out? Hugh Laing said in Dance Perspectives: “You can’t be a dancer in Tudor ballets.  Everything is based on classical technique, but it must look non-existent.” That’s very difficult to achieve.

All of the dancers came into rehearsal already knowing the ballet. I saw a run-through, the first the dancers had done.  It was already beautifully rehearsed.  After the run-through we sat down together and talked about the story and the characters. I reminded the corps that Tudor never let you feel you were just a member of the corps.  You were always an important character and there were no minor roles.  I spoke with the dancers about how the guests at the party don’t know it’s a sad story (even though it actually is).  They are having a good time.  We talked about the need for every dancer to pay particular attention to how they walk and run. We discussed how important it is to remember that the ballet consists of short scenes, all of which take place in the same spot, a garden. So they must walk and run as though they are on grass, very different from how they walk and run in other ballets.  We talked about the need to explore how their gestures define their character.  We also considered how each dancer at the party is an individual with a separate relationship with Caroline.

Of course, spacing, partnering, movement intention, music and phrasing were all addressed.  But we also worked on how to be still and quiet, how the eyes are part of movement, how to make the gestures real, executed in a human way.  I mentioned a quote from Karnilova which I found in the April 1982 issue of Ballet News. “Not long ago, [Tudor and I] were talking about how things are today, and I chided him for not doing more. What, I asked, is the difference between now and then?” and he said, “in those days I had people who happened to be dancers, and now I have dancers who are not always people.”

ABT’s dancers were so willing, so interested and interesting, and so respectful of Tudor’s work.

I spent a lot of time rehearsing Melanie Hamrick.  This was her first Caroline and because she was replacing another dancer, she had very limited time to prepare.

Melanie immersed herself in Lilac Garden by listening to Chausson’s Poème each night. And we talked each day. About putting aside everything she worked so hard on in other ballets. About not worrying how she looked doing the movement but rather the importance of giving the movement its full value as movement and not as a beautiful looking pose or line. About trying ‘to speak’ as she did the movement, saying something Caroline would say. And about leaving Melanie outside the room and bringing Caroline in, a very hard challenge. She was very brave and courageous as she peeled away the layers of herself to find Caroline’s voice.

I have always found it interesting to stage and coach a ballet on different companies and dancers, especially when it’s Tudor repertory were working on. Each company comes into rehearsal with a different type of training and style, different ways of thinking about what dancing is, and a different sense of how to get their intention across to the audience.

When it all comes together it’s very rewarding. It’s satisfying and special for everyone -the stager, the dancers, the musicians and especially the audience.

Categories: Uncategorized

James Jordan Learns to Stage Echoing of Trumpets

June 16, 2010 Leave a comment

On May 28, Tudor Répétiteur James Jordan,  sat down with Washington University Dance Program faculty member and former ABT Tudor dancer Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal,   to discuss the challenges of learning to stage Tudor’s masterpiece, Echoing of Trumpets.

Q: I understand that you’ve been learning Echoing of Trumpets in order to stage future productions. Tell us about that…..

A: My first exposure to the ballet was with Louisville Ballet in 2004. I’ve been learning several Tudor ballets from Donald Mahler over the past 12 years but this was my first opportunity to work on Echoing of Trumpets in person. Wow, what a powerhouse ballet! Donald had shared with me an amazing television recording of the original cast in Sweden in the early 60s and I just couldn’t wait to get inside of the work. Because of my full time position as ballet master with the KC Ballet, I can’t always get away for an entire staging period. In this case, I could only see a few studio run-throughs before transitioning to the theatre.

Q: Mr. Tudor chose very complex scenery for this ballet. Tell us about those challenges…

A: The ballet takes place in war-time Czechoslovakia amongst the broken stone ruins of a village. In the studio, the ramps and archway openings are marked out but the scale of the set has to be seen to be believed. Before the dancers arrived to their first on-stage rehearsal, I drew maps of its placement on the stage and began to explore the hidden platforms, the ladders upstage and every stepping stone and pathway.

The first rehearsal always takes forever. Dancers must negotiate not only walking on slanted ramps but also executing choreographic phrases and partnering. The hanging of the husband can’t be rehearsed until the set is there. It takes time to work out the use of the leather strap, the grips to get him up and also how to get him down. Then the women must roll him to the edge of the stone bridge and safely onto the floor. Everyone always pitches in and makes it work but its physical action that few have ever done before.

Q: When I saw the recent video of Colorado Ballet dancing Echoing of Trumpets, I was struck once again by Tudor’s ability get inside the score. It seems like Tudor commissioned Martinu to write the score but I know that he didn’t.

A: It’s really incredible….he’s incredible!! The musical and choreographic intensity are so beautifully married but the score is complex, to say the least. It is so very difficult to teach the musicality to the dancers but once it all falls together, it is absolute magic. Mr. Mahler sings the musicality for the dancers in some places and has developed counts for other scenes. But even making those counts line up with the proper beat is difficult to replicate each time because the score is so difficult…. but all eventually falls together with ample rehearsal time. And that is one daunting hurdle for any director agreeing to produce this ballet because it requires more than an average amount of rehearsal time and that can be difficult for some of the larger companies which have so many ballets to learn in a given season.

Q: So there have been other opportunities for you to see Mr. Mahler working in the studio on Echoing of Trumpets?

A: Yes, several years ago I had two opportunities to be with Donald at Ballet West for three week periods of time. He was working on a complete evening of three other Tudor ballets that eventually toured to the Edinburgh Festival. Jonas Kåge was the Artistic Director at that time. That program was a great success and so he then scheduled Echoing of Trumpets which also made a great impression on the audience.

Q: How does the audience react to the extreme violence depicted on stage?

A: They have never seen a ballet like this before and they are absolutely captivated by the work……absolutely silent. But the applause afterwards is always thunderous…..they can’t believe that what they have just seen and what the dancers have endured to tell this story. It raises the audiences’ respect for the company and the art form…..and the dancers always grow in depth and stature from dancing the ballet.

Q: Is it difficult to get the dancers to fully invest in the ballet?

A: Well, there is always a level of respect for any Tudor ballet, even if the dancers haven’t danced one of his ballets before. Most everyone has either read or heard about him and his ballets. With Echoing of Trumpets, the men are always eager to join in as soldiers with challenging music and partnering. But many women haven’t experienced Tudor’s unique pointe-work and that type of rough and tumble partnering but we proceed slowly and carefully to avoid split lips and bloody noses, but sore muscles are a given.

Q: Tell us more about that recent production in Denver…..

Echoing of Trumpets set rendering by Birger Bergling, photo by Louis Milancon

A: Yes, at Colorado Ballet, led by Gil Boggs and Sandra Brown. They’re doing a beautiful job there. Echoing of Trumpets was on their final program of the season which was very strong. I got to be there with Donald for two weeks in November and returned for theatre week in March. My notes and maps are getting better each time I work on it. Sally Bliss flew in for that week in the theatre and worked on details with the dancers and collaborated with the lighting designer to find enough light for the audience to see the dancers while capturing the quality of exterior lighting during war-time.

Q: So you’re notating the ballet?

A: Well not officially as the ballet has already been notated by the Dance Notation Bureau. I just use my own methods of short-hand with several Labanotation principles thrown in such as the use of facing pins and floor diagrams. I think they will be readable by another ballet master eventually…..once I’ve staged the ballet several times and have had time to re-write the notes.

Q: How close is Mr. Mahler’s staging to that original video from Sweden?

A: Because it was done for television, there are extreme close-ups that don’t permit all of the action to be seen. Donald has done extensive research on the ballet, interviewing dancers, working w/ notators, finding other videos, and he and Sally Bliss both danced it at The Metropolitan Opera. So he does follow the Swedish recording and has used other sources to fill in the gaps.

Q: Will there be future opportunities to see Echoing of Trumpets on the stage?

A: The Trust is currently in conversation with a couple of American directors. I can say that Bill Whitener will be bringing it to Kansas City. We have had to wait for the completion of a new performing arts center to have a stage large enough to accommodate the scenery. Stay tuned….

Q: So that’s quite a responsibility to hold the future of any Antony Tudor ballet.

A: No pressure, right!? And I don’t take that responsibility lightly. The search for additional details will never stop. I didn’t know Mr. Tudor personally but I’ll continue to learn from Mr. Mahler and those who did. What an incredible feeling to see a master-work like Echoing of Trumpets come to life….and what a privilege to be a part of the process.

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