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Tudor in New York in 2008, The Centenary Year of His Birth

by Mindy Aloff
March 18, 2008
New York, NY

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American Ballet Theatre
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890 Broadway
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In a recent story I posted on ExploreDance about a rehearsal of Antony Tudor's Jardin aux Lilas that was conducted by Sallie Wilson at the New York Theatre Ballet (NYTB), for the company's February performances at Florence Gould Hall, I made a reference to my perception of the rarity of Tudor stagings by ABT in recent years. A call from the company took issue with this statement and made the case that, under the leadership of Kevin McKenzie, brought on board in 1992, ABT has managed to revive a Tudor work more or less yearly since the turn of the current century and staged periodic revivals from the 1995-6 season on.

Because other writers have charged ABT with delinquency toward the Tudor rep, I want to lay out exactly what the schedule of revivals has been over the past 15 years, noting when ballets have been performed on tour as well as in New York. This information came directly from ABT, which, at my behest, painstakingly researched the venues, stagers, and touring information. During 1993-4, the first season whose programming Mr. McKenzie planned, ABT revived Tudor's Echoing of Trumpets in a staging by Viveka Ljung, with rehearsals from choreographic notation by Marilyn VallaGaat; this was performed at the Met and on tour. During the 1994-5 season, there was no Tudor production. During 1995-6, The Leaves Are Fading (staging unattributed) was performed on tour and at the Met in 1996. During 1996-7, Leaves was also performed on tour, though not in New York. Then, in 1997, it was performed at City Center during ABT's first fall season in that theater. In 1998, the company revived Gala Performance, in a staging by Sallie Wilson from 1987, performing it at City Center.

During 1999-2000, ABT revived Jardin aux Lilas, performing it in 2000 at the Met, in a staging by Sallie Wilson from 1990. In 2001, it revived Dim Lustre, in a staging by David Richardson, at City Center. During 2002-3, the company revived Offenbach in the Underworld for its City Center season and also performed the ballet in 2003 at the Met. In 2003, as well, it revived Pillar of Fire, with new costumes, at City Center and performed it again in 2004 at the Met. In 2005, it revived Dark Elegies at City Center and performed it on tour during 2006. These last three stagings were by Donald Mahler. At City Center in 2007, in a new staging by Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner, the company revived The Leaves Are Fading.

ABT has just announced that, as part of the 2008 centenary celebrations of the birth of Tudor—identified with the company's history from its beginnings—the opening night gala at Metropolitan Opera House on Monday, 19 May, will showcase a revival of Judgment of Paris, Tudor's 1938 comic masterpiece, to a score by Kurt Weill. Judgment was given its Ballet Theatre première in 1940 and was last performed by the company in 1958. The revival staging will be by former ABT principal and Tudor ballerina Sallie Wilson, who has not only staged Tudor works for ABT but has also served New York Theatre Ballet as ballet mistress and stager of Tudor repertory for the past 20 years, and by Diana Byer, NYTB's founding artistic director.

The ABT Met gala will be the sole performance of Judgment during ABT's spring season. Its unusual, all-alumni cast will consist of Kathleen Moore as Juno, Martine van Hamel as Venus, Bonnie Mathis as Minerva, Kevin McKenzie as The Client, and Victor Barbee (ABT's associate artistic director) as The Waiter. However, Tudor ballets are expected to be performed as well at City Center in the fall. Furthermore, ABT II, the company's associated studio group, maintains Tudor's Continuo, Jardin aux Lilas, and Fandango in its active repertory.

In speaking up for its efforts on behalf of the Tudor repertory, the ABT spokesperson made the point that not only are revivals extremely expensive to mount but that the presenters at many of the U.S. venues to which ABT tours also put considerable pressure on the company to program full-length works, which sell tickets. She explained that the company would like to present more repertory on tour as well as at the Met each spring, but that the economic realities make this daunting: during the 1980's, when at least two Tudor works would be presented in New York each year (with four presented in 1987-8), ABT enjoyed 15 weeks/year of touring and eight weeks at the Met. The touring opportunities began to decline during 1990-1, and by the time Mr. McKenzie was appointed in 1992, the touring had dropped precipitously. Although, this year, the number of touring weeks is "up, some," there is really no comparison with the situation of the 1980s, when Mikhail Baryshnikov was ABT's artistic director.

In fact, I have seen every one of these Tudor revivals and applauded some of them in print. Ideally, as the spokesperson agreed, the company's Tudor rep each year should consist of more than one work; however, I certainly understand the practical pressures the company is under, and I apologize if my sentence gave the impression that ABT isn't demonstrating its devotion to Tudor insofar as it can in the current cultural and economic climate.

Tudor's actual birthday is 4 April: at 7:30 p.m. that evening, at Florence Gould Hall, NYTB will repeat its well-received February program celebrating the 100th birth centenaries of both Tudor and José Límón, with a surprise addition. The program will be Limón's Chopin suite, Mazurkas, staged by Sarah Stackhouse; Sallie Wilson's stagings of Tudor's Jardin aux Lilas, Little Improvisations, and Judgment of Paris; and—new this evening—a staging by Airi Hynninen of the bedroom duet from Tudor's Romeo and Juliet, a ballet whose absence is often lamented and the possibility of whose reconstruction through a film of excerpts and a notated score of nearly the entire ballet has frequently been discussed yet, for one reason or another, not pursued.

The next Friday and Saturday, 11 and 12 April, at 7:30 p.m. at Florence Gould Hall, NYTB will perform Mazurkas; Jardin aux Lilas; the pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet; a revival of William Dollar's popular 1949 pas de deux, Le Combat, in a staging by Paul Sutherland ("a dramatic tale that centers on a young woman not recognized by her lover, who then kills her in a duel," is how the press release describes it); and a new ballet by Matthew Neenan, cofounder of the Philadelphia dance company BalletX, to Georges Bizet's Jeux d'enfants. A panel discussion with Sarah Stackhouse and Paul Sutherland will follow each of these performances.
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