Antony Tudor - Choreographer

New York
Tudor rehearsing with John Prinz in Romeo and Juliet

Tudor in rehearsal with John Prinz
Courtesy American Ballet Theatre
Photo: Martha Swope.

In late 1939 Tudor was invited to stage his ballets for a new company in New York called “Ballet Theatre” ('American' was added in 1956). Old friend Agnes de Mille convinced founders Richard Pleasant and Lucia Chase that Tudor was worth the investment. Tudor accepted their offer, in hopes of raising funds for the debt ridden London Ballet. Accompanied by long time partner and collaborator, Hugh Laing, Tudor was able to sail on one of the last civilian ships out of England after the start of World War II (only because he had signed the Ballet Theatre contract before the start of the war). Due to passport difficulty, Tudor and Laing spent their first night in the United States as most immigrants did: on Ellis Island.

In 1940, shortly after joining Ballet Theatre, Tudor recreated
Jardin aux Lilas, Dark Elegies and Judgment of Paris, all of which received glowing reviews from critics and the public alike. An offer of summer employment (and the war) unexpectedly extended Tudor’s residence with Ballet Theatre. This year also saw the first Tudor ballet created in America, the light-hearted Goya Pastoral. In 1941 he choreographed Time Table for Ballet Caravan (a predecessor to NYC Ballet) and recreated Gala Performance for Ballet Theatre, also well received.

Tudor's first American masterpiece took him over a year to complete. Ballet Theatre presented Pillar of Fire in 1942 and it became an immediate sensation, cementing Tudor as an undeniable force in the dance community. Agnes de Mille compared Tudor’s impact to that of Shakespeare, proclaiming the ballet as the greatest English work since Elizabethan times, praise echoed by many at the time.

Following this success Tudor choreographed
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet in 1943, which remains the only major ballet version of the Shakespearean classic presented in one act. Tudor famously announced to the premiere audience (dressed as his character, Tybalt) that the ballet was incomplete and invited them to return four days later to see the finished version. The audience received both versions well.

Tudor developed a reputation as a deliberate choreographer who took a painstaking amount of time in the creative process. The fact that he created
Dim Lustre (1943) in less than two weeks was shocking. Despite mixed reviews, it strengthened Tudor’s growing reputation as a master of psychological work.

Continuing in that stream was 1945’s Undertow, a murder story in which Tudor became the first choreographer to deal with the psycho-sexual problems of the male. The ballet's violent subject shocked many in America. England, less puritanical than the U.S., received it much more kindly the following year.

In 1945 Tudor ventured into musical theatre, choreographing dance sequences for Hollywood
Pinafore and Day Before Spring to mixed reviews. While Tudor had always dabbled in other mediums, his main focus remained in ballet. In 1946 Tudor, who never loved the business part of dance, grudgingly accepted the role of Artistic Administrator for Ballet Theatre.

His next ballet,
Shadow of the Wind (1948), was an unusual blending of cultures and music. After a summer at Jacobs Pillow and a brief stay in Sweden, Tudor returned to Ballet Theatre in 1950 and choreographed Nimbus. At the same time, he became director of the newly formed Metropolitan Opera Ballet, a cooperative with Ballet Theatre. While he choreographed several operas (including his most noteworthy, Acleste) during his association with The Met, he eventually gave that part of his job up to focus on teaching. Even while working as a choreographer for various companies, Tudor held the directorship of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company and School off and on until 1963.

In 1951 Tudor left Ballet Theatre along with longtime collaborators Nora Kaye, Hugh Laing and Laing’s wife, Diana Adams, to join New York City Ballet. While at NYCB, Tudor choreographed
Lady of Camellias (in which a retired Tudor made a surprise appearance) and La Gloire (1952). In 1953 Tudor created a student work, Exercise Piece, for the recently founded Juilliard School.

In 1954
Offenbach in the Underworld was created in Philadelphia at the Academy of Music using dancers from Catherine Littlefield’s Philadelphia Ballet Company, later staged in New York and all over the world.

Hail and Farewell (1959) was created for the first ever “Ballet Evening” at the Metropolitan Opera, something Tudor himself instituted. At the time Tudor thought he was going to retire from choreography and the ballet was rumored to be his farewell (as well as a tribute to the retiring Nora Kaye).

In 1960 Tudor created another student work,
A Choreographer Comments (preserved on film by Juilliard) followed by Dance Studies (1961, Juilliard) and a piece for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Fandango (1963). In 1966 he choreographed Concerning Oracles (where he first worked with the future Trustee of the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, Sally Brayley Bliss) and reconstructed Echoing of Trumpets at the third and final “Ballet Evening” before leaving the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School.

After some years abroad, Tudor was invited to apply for a grant from the recently formed National Endowment for the Arts. Tudor, once again influenced by Agnes de Mille, agreed to create a series of ballets for small companies and schools. The results of this project were three small works,
Continuo, Cereus and Sunflowers which he created with students of the Juilliard School in 1971. When the project was completed, Tudor had money left over and stunned the NEA by sending the balance back. Tudor recognized many of his ballets were difficult for small companies to perform and also knew the realities facing these organizations. The parts for boys in Sunflowers required little technical expertise because he knew in smaller companies it was rare to have experienced males. This would be Tudor’s final contribution to Juilliard, as he left shortly afterwards and Juilliard temporarily dropped its classical ballet program to focus on modern dance. Eventually professional companies mounted these works as well, with Tudor himself setting Continuo for The Joffrey II Dancers.

Tudor in rehearsal with Kevin McKenzie for Jardin aux Lilas - ABT

Antony Tudor in rehearsal with Kevin McKenzie
for Jardin aux Lilas. Photo: Paul B. Goode
Courtesy - American Ballet Theatre

Although Tudor reluctantly became the Associate Director of ABT in 1974, he would not choreograph a new ballet until 1975, when he created his final masterpiece, The Leaves are Fading. Tudor considered this piece his “autobiography” and it remains one of his most famous works. In 1978, perhaps under pressure to create a new ballet, Tudor choreographed his final ballet, Tiller in the Fields (not considered one of his best works).

Tudor stayed in New York much longer than his originally planned ten weeks, but his impact lasted beyond his lifetime. Tudor’s decision not only changed choreography and dance forever, it set him on course to become the world traveler he had always dreamed of being.


 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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