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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.

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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