Antony Tudor - The Man

Antony Tudor

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."

Antony Tudor

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.

Antony Tudor Portrait

Photo courtesy of Sally Bliss

The End

On April 5, 1987, one day after his 79th birthday, Antony Tudor passed away. It was two days before the opening performance of ABTís revival of
Pillar of Fire, which Tudor and Hugh Laing had been helping to stage. The First Zen Institute held an unofficial memorial service and Tudor was buried in the Instituteís plot at the Woodlawn Cemetery in New York. An official and public memorial was organized by Nancy Zeckendorf and was held at The Juilliard School in June, with many dancers, colleagues and friends paying their respects either in person or in absentia via written message.

The person who knew Tudor best, Hugh Laing, eloquently described him at the service: ďHe asked for little. Just perfection he was a very simple person- a very complicated simple person."

Tudor left behind a legacy that the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust is dedicated to champion and protect.


 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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