Antony Tudor 1908–1987

Master of the psychological ballet

Antony Tudor was a British ballet choreographer who introduced the psychological ballet, exploring character development, emotion and subtext. Though Tudor wasn’t a prolific choreographer, his works brought legitimacy and public acclaim to the newly formed American Ballet Theatre.

Tudor was born William Cook in London to a working-class family. Growing up, he often attended musical theater variety shows with his father, a butcher, and his mother, who gave him piano lessons. He didn’t take his first dance class until he was 16—just before he dropped out of school. After seeing Anna Pavlova and the Ballets Russes perform, Tudor decided to train seriously with Marie Rambert, who had just formed her own company, Ballet Club. He debuted with the company at 21 and soon chose Antony Tudor as his stage name.

While working as a jack-of-all-trades for Rambert (secretary, stage manager, electrician and accompanist, in addition to his role as a dancer), Tudor got to try his hand at choreography. His first ballet, Cross Garter’d, premiered in 1931.

ABT principal Gillian Murphy as the neurotic middle sister, Hagar, in a 2003 revival of Tudor’s Pillar of Fire.

Tudor created two of his most famous ballets, Jardin aux Lilas (1936) and Dark Elegies (1937), while still in his 20s. He often starred in his own works, as did Hugh Laing, another Ballet Club dancer who soon became Tudor’s artistic and romantic partner.

Tudor left Rambert’s troupe in 1937 to start Dance Theatre with Agnes de Mille, but the company folded after one season. He founded London Ballet a year later, but after a promising debut, he set sail for America: He’d been invited to set his work on the fledgling American Ballet Theatre. Though Tudor originally planned to spend only 10 weeks in the U.S., he ended up staying for the rest of his life. He reset his early ballets on ABT with great success but would only produce two additional master works, more than 30 years apart: Pillar of Fire in 1942 and The Leaves Are Fading in 1975 (inspired by and starring a young Gelsey Kirkland).

Tudor joined The Juilliard School faculty in the 1950s and remained there until 1971; his students included Pina Bausch, Paul Taylor and Carolyn Brown. When Mikhail Baryshnikov became artistic director of ABT in 1980, he named Tudor choreographer emeritus. Tudor died seven years later at age 79. DT

Fun Fact:

Once, when no pianist showed up for his Royal Opera House rehearsal, Tudor—who’d studied piano growing up—simply plunked himself down at the keys and expertly accompanied his dancers.

The Work

Jardin aux Lilas (1936) Sometimes translated as Lilac Garden for American audiences, this piece is set in the formal and etiquette-conscious Edwardian era. At a party, a young woman must choose between her stiff, unfeeling fiancé and her former lover. Tudor sprayed lilac scent in the theater before the piece’s premiere, for atmosphere.

Dark Elegies (1937) This piece is a meditation on grieving: A peasant community has lost all of its children. Dark Elegies, which has been restaged by the Limón Dance Company, resembles the work of Tudor’s modern dance contemporaries, like Martha Graham.

Pillar of Fire (1942) Tudor’s first new work for ABT involves three sisters in a small town who fight over their romantic interests. His cast was so in touch with their individual characters that they claimed they could picture the color of the wallpaper in their rooms.

Style

Tudor’s choreography is gestural—though it steers clear of straight pantomime—and without virtuosic displays. Some call his ballets psychological because of his nuanced characters and use of subtext. He required his dancers to be deeply invested in their characters’ backgrounds, asking them to picture every detail about their fictional lives.

Tudor never gave counts to his dancers. Instead, he insisted they sense the phrasing. In the classroom, he was witty but could also be cruel—he loved breaking dancers down to expose their vulnerability, which he believed led to better dancing.

The Legacy Lives On

Though Tudor’s ballets are performed less frequently these days, they remain in the repertoire of many companies, including ABT. Professional ballet dancers like Alicia Markova, Nora Kaye, Jerome Robbins, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland owe a large part of their early success to him. The Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, created before his death, now oversees the staging of his ballets.

Resources:

Print:

“Antony Tudor: Pillar of 20th-century ballet,” by Elizabeth McPherson, Dance Teacher, August 2007

Shadowplay: The Life of Antony Tudor, by Donna Perlmutter, Viking Penguin, 1991

WEB:

Dance Heritage Coalition: “America’s Irreplaceable Dance Treasures”: danceheritage.org

Photos, from top: courtesy of Kumi Oyama, Star Dancers, Tokyo, and the Antony Tudor Trust; by Marty Sohl, courtesy of ABT

Music
Allie Burke, courtesy Lo Cascio

If you'd hear it on the radio, you won't hear it in Anthony Lo Cascio's tap classes.

"If I play a song that my kids know, I'm kind of disappointed in myself," he says. "I either want to be on the cutting edge or playing the classics."

He finds that most of today's trendy tracks lack the depth needed for tap, and that there's a disconnect between kids and popular music. "They have trouble finding the beat compared to older genres," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Courtesy Lovely Leaps

After the birth of her daughter in 2018, engineer Lisa McCabe had reservations about returning to the workforce full-time. And while she wanted to stay home with the new baby, she wasn't ready to stop contributing financially to her family (after all, she'd had a successful career designing cables for government drones). So, when she got a call that September from an area preschool to lead its dance program, she saw an opportunity.

The invitation to teach wasn't completely out of the blue. McCabe had grown up dancing in Southern California and had a great reputation from serving as her church's dance teacher and team coach the previous three years (stopping only to take a break as a new mother). She agreed to teach ballet and jazz at the preschool on Fridays and from there created an age-appropriate class based on her own training in the Cecchetti and RAD methods. It was a success: In three months, class enrollment went from six to 24 students, and just one year later, McCabe's blossoming Lovely Leaps brand had contracts with eight preschools and three additional teachers.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Courtesy Shake the Ground

Dance competitions were among the first events to be shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in the U.S. in mid-March, and they've been among the last able to restart.

So much of the traditional structure of the competition—large groups of dancers and parents from dozens of different studios; a new city every week—simply won't work in our new pandemic world.

How, then, have competitions been getting by, and what does the future look like?

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.