Antony Tudor as Hercules

Antony Tudor as Hercules
Courtesy of Ballet Rambert Archives

Antony Tudor - The Dancer

Unlike his contemporaries, Antony Tudor did not become a ballet dancer until his late teens. Spurred by witnessing a memorable performance by Serge Lifar of the Diaghilev Ballet in Balanchine’s Apollon Musagète in 1928, Tudor decided it was time to get serious about his interest in dance. He was advised to contact Cyril Beaumont, a writer, publisher and owner of a ballet book shop in the Charing Cross Road district in London. Beaumont suggested Tudor work with either Margaret Craske or Marie Rambert, both of whom had ballet schools in London. Rambert had danced with the Diaghilev Ballet and was considered an influential presence in the rapidly growing English ballet community. Her faculty, like Craske’s, taught the Cecchetti method, mixed with techniques borrowed from visiting Russian teachers.

Thanks to his father, Tudor had by this time acquired a job as a “clark” (English term for office boy) at the Smithfield Meat Market. Although his interest was clearly in music and dance, he could not afford to give up his job. As a result, Tudor could not take classes until after four o’clock in the afternoon. Since Craske did not offer evening classes, Tudor approached Madame Rambert.

Not surprising, Rambert accepted Tudor into her company almost immediately; due to the scarcity of male dancers in England. While Tudor had dabbled in Spanish dance, Tap, German modern dance and Ballroom dancing (especially overhead lifts); he was at a disadvantage due to the late start of his career. Rambert, however, saw something special in this young man from “the other side of the tracks” and set about to expedite his dance education by having him take lessons from her leading dancers. Thus began a ten year association that would launch the career of Antony Tudor.

Rambert was impressed with Tudor’s work ethic as he maintained a full-time job at the meat market while studying ballet every evening. Rambert spoke of Tudor as “tall and handsome with poetic eyes, someone with intelligence and a deep appreciation of the art of dance.” To pay for his lessons, Tudor gradually took on extra work around the school, including teaching younger students (he became a certified teacher of dance in less than a year), playing piano, bookkeeping, working the technical aspects of performances such as lighting and set design, and even janitorial duties.

Antony Tudor as The Great American Goof - 1940
Ballet by Eugene Loring with Antony Tudor in top hat and Loring peeking underneath. Photo by Gjon Mili.
Tudor made his professional debut dancing for the English Opera Company in 1929, using his annual two weeks of vacation for rehearsals. It was this performance that spurred his eventual name change, as William Cook did not exactly “spark the imagination.” Rambert told him he would never be taken seriously as a performer or choreographer with the name William Cook. He chose Anthony Tudor, with the intentional intimation of royalty, spelling it with the ‘h’ at first. There is a famous story that the “h” met its demise after an encounter with an elderly woman at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, where, in a casual conversation, she suggested he would “never get anywhere with that ‘h’."

In 1930, Tudor first danced with Rambert’s fledgling company in a small part in Michel Fokine’s ballet Le Carnaval and then in Frederick Ashton’s Capriol Suite. Tudor would often dance in his own ballets up until he retired from performing in 1950. He did this not because of ego or self-indulgence, but as a way of learning what worked for dancers and audiences alike.

“I never got the feeling that he really loved to dance,” Sally Brayley Bliss, Trustee of the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, said of Tudor. “He wasn’t considered a great dancer, but his classical technique was strong. When he would show us how to do something, whether the character was a child or a woman, we would be left emotionally stunned. Here he was in his dress shoes and his immaculate clothing and he would move so beautifully. He always did it better than us.” Tudor always demonstrated what he wanted. As he grew older and couldn’t’ do this as easily, he became frustrated and it probably affected his drive to choreograph late in his career.

Although Tudor later admitted he liked dancing in his (and other people’s) ballets, especially dramatic roles where he could emotionally connect with the audience (like Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet), he knew if he truly had ambitions as a dancer, he would have to work on steps, which he loathed. It appeared that, for Tudor, dancing was always a means to an end. And that end was to becoming a choreographer.


 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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