Mr. and Mrs. Alfred and Florence Cook

Mr. and Mrs. Alfred and Florence Cook
Photograph courtesy of Isabel Brown

Antony Tudor : The Beginning

Antony Tudor is undoubtedly regarded as one of the greatest choreographers of all time. His body of work is only equaled in scope with the improbable journey he undertook to achieve this greatness. What follows does not pretend to be an exhaustive history, but rather selected anecdotes to give the reader a peek inside the life of one of the most creative forces in twentieth-century dance.

Tudor was born William Cook on April 4, 1908. He grew up in the hardscrabble neighborhood of Finsbury, a suburb east of London. His father was a butcher at the famous Smithfield meat market in nearby Islington, which his mother helped manage. Neither parent had any connection to the arts, typical of most working-class families of that region and era, but music would still play an important part of Tudor’s childhood.

Tudor’s mother played the piano and gave him lessons as a youngster. This would prove to be an invaluable skill for the budding choreographer later in life. While Tudor did not have an upbringing filled with the arts, his early memories of his father taking him to music hall shows (a form of vaudeville in London) left an indelible impression on the boy. He stated that his exposure to these performances left him “completely stage-struck. Forever and ever." Perhaps foreshadowing his future career, Tudor remembered creating dances with his siblings at the age of six, using the marble slab counters of the fish shop next door as a stage and cutting a little hole in the lace curtains for a spotlight.

William Cook (Antony Tudor)

William Cook
(Later known as Antony Tudor)
Photo courtesy of Isabel Brown

A wealthy uncle paid for an excellent education, allowing Tudor two years of study beyond the then traditional age of fourteen. During his time as a schoolboy, Tudor accidentally discovered ballet. Riding on the top of a double-decker tram on the way to physical education fields, Tudor noticed a large studio window level with his view. Inside, he saw young people “doing the strangest things.” It turned out to be a typical dance studio that taught a little bit of everything, including drama. Tudor signed up, but apparently found the classes “dreadful” due to this smorgasbord approach.

Soon after starting these classes, Tudor began spending his evenings working as an actor with small Dramatic Societies he would later credit as an influence on his choreography. Tudor’s role as Malvolio in Shakespeare’s
Twelfth Night at the age of 18 and other characters would appear in his first ballet, Cross-Garter’d. As he progressed through bigger and better dramatic societies he was exposed to his first dance class on partnering, where the foundation of his philosophy was born. During a dance scene in which he played the devil Tudor came to realize how much he loved applause. Although acting was an appealing career to Tudor, he lacked a confident “voice,” setting his path towards becoming a dancer.

Tudor’s first exposure to professional ballet did not come until 1926 or 1927, when he first saw The Diaghilev Ballet Russes. This Russian company would later introduce him to the great Anna Pavlova, who enchanted Tudor and solidified his destiny to enter the world of dance.


 Adapted with permission from Undimmed Lustre by Murial Topaz


 The Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, P.O.Box 783, Ocean Beach, NY 11770
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