Antony Tudor - The Man
While Antony Tudor was easily recognized for the genius of his work, the man himself was shrouded
in mystery and mythology. Tudor was a fiercely private man, whose blend of English propriety and progressive thinking
cast him as an enigma of sorts. It is safe to say that no one who spent any time with him was indifferent towards
him. He left an impression on everyone he met.
Myths and Reality
The myth that he was not a prolific choreographer is disproven by the facts: 43 full length ballets, 7 smaller
works, 11 operas, and 33 dances for film, theatre and television. It is true that many of his ballets are lost
today, but that is more a result of the era in which he lived. Videotape did not exist and preservation was not
a priority. It is true that Tudor turned down many offers to stage his works due to his belief that only a few
companies could adequately present his ballets. He also wished to be a part of the staging, and this hands on approach
limited many opportunities to expand his visibility. Upon Tudorís death, this stance was subsequently loosened
by the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust by having several Répétiteurs who have been trained to preserve
and promote Tudorís legacy.
Antony Tudor was definitely a man who didnít believe in holding back what was on his mind. He was not universally
disliked as myth has it. Many of his former students not only appreciated his honesty but adored him for it. He
projected the ďcold-heartedĒ image because he felt it served his needs. At the same time, Tudor always showed great
interest in his studentís lives, not just because they might become great dancers, but to mentor their development
into great human beings. Tudor liked being challenged, preferring dancers who manifested intelligence, sensitivity
and spirit. Dancer Isabel Brown, former Ballet Theatre dancer, said that Tudor was intentionally deliberate. "People
who did not understand him were simply not in his ballets. Tudor gravitated to all the people who had the intelligence
and the acting ability to understand what he wanted without him having to discuss it." Tudor dancers had to
have: "feeling, sensitivity, soul, artistry, lyricism, tautness and intelligence."
Lucia Chase said "Tudor coached via images, intuition, and intelligence until dancers internalized their roles.
He used natural movement and colloquial gesture, finding movement that would externalize the inner state of his
characters. Although he knew his own mind and intention, he sometimes had to search for steps to express his vision."
She also noted that he ďdoes not explain the feeling that he wants; he shows emotion by motion, by demonstrating
movement...The movement phrases ride over the music. There are no steps in Tudor ballets, only phrases." Mikhail
Baryshnikov said, that for a dancer, performing in even one of Tudor ballets amounts to "a passport to become
mature; to be an adult dancer, a dancer in depth, and it was an obvious school for everyone."
Courtesy of American Ballet Theatre
Photo: Cecil Beaton.
Dancer David Wall, who danced the lead in Knight Errant, talked about Tudorís unique strategies
for getting the most out of his dancers. David Wall recalled witnessing Tudorís psychological manipulation. "It
was the first time Iíd ever seen a choreographer get into oneís psyche. By the time the ballet was created it was
as if Tudor had slit us from our throats to our navels and exposed our innards to the audience. He achieved this
by his incredible ability to observe." Tudor, true to his commitment to character development, insisted that
dancers in his productions became the characters they were portraying well before going onstage (24 hours a day
if he had his way!), a technique that may have been used in the theatre, but never before in ballet.
Life Outside of Ballet
Despite his humble beginnings, Tudor had the opportunity to socialize with some of the more famous people of the
time, ranging from authors like Pearl S. Buck to colleagues of Albert Einstein. He enjoyed frequenting art galleries,
museums, plays and movies, something he did often upon arriving in New York or exploring a new city.
As for his personal life, it must be noted that Tudor grew up in a time when homosexuality was not generally accepted.
Homophobia was rampant during his lifetime and although he never hid or denied his sexuality, being a proper Englishman
meant that he didnít make it an issue either. Tudor found a lifelong companion in Hugh Laing, and although they
lived together for much of their lives, their intimate relationship ended in 1945. Since Tudor kept his private
life just that, not much else is known. What is known is that Tudor conducted his life with dignity, something
that made him a unique role-model for young men who were struggling with their sexuality at the time.
Tudor was fascinated by Asian culture long before his first trip to Japan. Seeking a deeper understanding of life,
Tudor became a Zen Buddhist shortly after that visit. The discipline, as well as the pursuit of understanding the
human condition appealed to him on many levels. Tudor became involved with the First Zen Institute of America in
New York and eventually became the president. He eventually moved into the Institute, living with only the essentials
and giving away most of his possessions to align his life with the Zen goal of becoming "a realized human
being." Already a lifelong pacifist, Tudor felt that Zen "saved his mind," allowing him a better
handle on life.
It was around this time that he (along with Hugh Laing) began restricting his food intake with a strict macrobiotic
diet that caused him to be so thin (a condition he maintained until his death) that many of his friends and followers
worried about him.
Concerns about Tudorís health did not become realized until 1979 when he had a heart attack. Although his recovery
allowed him to return to teaching, he would never regain the strength he once had. Tudorís style of choreography
and coaching depended on his ability to demonstrate what he wanted. It is believed that his frustration over his
bodyís inability to match his mind diminished his desire to create new works late in his career.
In 1974 Tudor was recognized with the first of many Lifetime Achievement awards with the Dance
Magazine Award. In 1976 he accepted the Brandeis University
Creative Arts Medal. In 1980 Mikhail Baryshnikov, the new Artistic Director of American
Ballet Theatre, surprised Tudor by naming him Choreographer Emeritus of ABT. The Royal Academy of Dance presented Tudor with the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation
Award in 1985.
What some felt was long overdue, Tudor was finally named the 1986 winner of the Capezio
Award, where Baryshnikov famously joked at the ceremony that he was not a Tudor dancer
because Tudor thought he was too expensive. He also said Tudor thought ABT did Tudor ballets only because Lucia
Chase insisted. Baryshnikov disagreed, "We do (Tudorís) ballets because we must. Tudorís work is our conscience!"
That year Tudor also received the Dance/USA Award, shared the
New York City Handel Medallion with Martha Graham and was honored
with a special Tudor evening of Ballet at ABT.
In December of 1986 one of the highest honors for an artist was bestowed on Tudor when he was named one of the
recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors. Other honorees that
year were Lucille Ball, Ray Charles, Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn and Yehudi Menuhin. Agnes de Mille introduced the
Tudor segment, featuring excerpts from The Leaves Are Fading, and the crowd gave him a long ovation. His acknowledgment
of the applause was exhibited gracefully with his hands joined together, fingers up and head lowered in a traditional
Buddhist bow of heartfelt appreciation. It would be the last opportunity for the world to honor his genius. Dame
Margot Fonteyn had the honor of presenting the award.
Photo courtesy of Sally Bliss