Two Stories From the January 2011 eNewsletter
 
 
Tudor Workshop at Principia College December 27th – January 1st 2011

By Hilary Harper-Wilcoxen

There’s a great quote attributed to John Burroughs, “Leap and the net will appear”. We all leapt into the unknown during the week between Christmas and New Years. That was when a weeklong intensive “Tudor Workshop” took place at tiny Principia College in Elsah, Il. The overarching question that was asked was, “Can the masterworks of the 20th century master choreographer, Antony Tudor, inform and enrich college and university dance students?” We set out to see what the answer would be.

Now it is true that, in some ways, this looked just like other intensive ballet workshops: we had amazing technique classes with master teacher and dancer John Gardner every morning for two hours and the dancers got to learn sections of the great masterpiece “Jardin aux Lilas” by Antony Tudor from prima ballerina and Tudor repetiteur Amanda McKerrow and John throughout the day. What a treat! But we wanted to go further. Our goal was to use this as a pilot program for a national Tudor Curriculum model that was originated, and is chaired by, Mr. Tudor’s sole trustee, Sally Brayley Bliss, and includes Christine Knobloch O’Neal from Washington University and James Jordan from Kansas City Ballet, as well as Amanda Mc Kerrow and myself, Hilary Harper-Wilcoxen from Principia College. Our other goal was to teach “Caroline’s solo” to Principia dancer Kanoe Wagner for performance during Principia’s winter dance production.

We decided this would be a great opportunity to experiment with a highly collaborative and inter-disciplinary model, while keeping it challenging technically.

We wanted to give the dancers a chance to find how to use movement to express emotion (a key component in Mr. Tudor’s works) and so included “Acting for the Dancer” classes with actor/dancer/professor Meg Eginton; we also gave them a “behind the scenes” look at the music they were dancing to all week with Principia Music Professor Jim Hegarty and included a very interactive poetry class with Principia English Professor Dr. Heidi Snow. Finally, we built in a chance to hear about what Tudor’s classes were like in the 40s/50s with former Tudor student Trude de Garmo Harper. The students and faculty were engaged in discovering, stretching and learning more about Antony Tudor and all the various aspects of “Jardin aux Lilas”: from there it was a short leap to learning more about themselves as artists and people: Isn’t that what dance in Higher Education should be about? We do.

Many of us know that Tudor ballets are never done without tremendous amounts of in-depth rehearsals and, typically, only with professional ballet dancers; we didn’t have that. So, in order not to in any way disrespect the artistry of Mr. Tudor’s masterpiece, we decided to show the work we had done all week by letting the audience “see” the actual process. The result was a wonderfully informal, interactive “open rehearsal” with John and Amanda coaching the dancers, an amazing violin cadenza of Chausson’s “Poeme” played by violinist Laura Garritson Parker, a panel of the artists-in-residence and curriculum committee members talking together informally, and a chance for the audience to see dancers warm up and try things one more time if needed. Fascinating, educational and fun!

The end result of this week long intensive was a greater appreciation and respect for Antony Tudor and his extraordinary contribution to the dance world. The dancers all agreed that through all the special “non-dance” offerings they grew not only in technique and artistry but in their understanding of the interconnectedness of many artistic disciplines…a core component of the arts in higher education. As one dancer said, “This week taught me how to be the dancer I want to be.” And from another, “I now think Mr. Tudor is a ballet genius…” What more is there to say except “thank you” Sally for so fully supporting this experiment and to Amanda, John and Meg for making it happen. Oh, and the answer to the original question is, you guessed it, “Yes!”.
 

 
Of Bicycles, Dance and Genius

by Ernesta Corvino

I met Antony Tudor when I was five years old. My father, Alfredo Corvino, was teaching with him on the faculties of both the Juilliard School and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School. My mother, Marcella, had also just become the administrative secretary of the latter. My fondest memory of Mr. Tudor as a tender human being dates from that time.

Very often I had to accompany my mother to the old Met and spend time in her small, cramped office that was situated on the landing of the big 40th Street roof-stage studio. One day, to keep me occupied, she gave me paper and crayons and I proceeded to exercise my obsession with bicycles in the form of colorful drawings both big and small. I then pasted the drawings all over the office walls and informed anyone who entered that they may purchase these works of art for five cents for the small ones and ten cents for the larger ones. When Mr. Tudor arrived, knowing that he was an important person, I told him that he could “buy any one he liked for free.” After carefully examining and commenting on each drawing, he picked one of a large blue bicycle and thanked me very sweetly. Years later, I was told that he kept that drawing and was always amused that he “bought it for free.”

It was a rare privilege to grow up watching Mr. Tudor’s classes and rehearsals. Long before deciding to become a dancer, I spent hours witnessing his unique approach in the studio. His commanding presence, his obvious love of the music while marking the steps, the ecstasy that permeated his whole being as he demonstrated…these memories inspire me to this day.

As a teenager, my relationship with Mr. Tudor progressed from the man who called me Junior and conversed with me about my cat, to the ballet teacher who would influence me as a choreographer. Every class with Mr. Tudor was an adventure into the unknown. Never knowing what to expect in the way of exercises or comments it was both exhilarating and terrifying… exhilarating because the room was always charged with a tremendous creative energy, and terrifying because it always seemed as though Mr. Tudor could see right through you and play on your vulnerability to get to the truth.

It was during this period that I began to “choreograph.” I shamelessly stole whole combinations from his classes to put into my little dances that were nothing more than a series of enchainements. Later, as I began to choreograph full pieces with dramatic and theatrical content, I began to realize how valuable Mr. Tudor’s “production class” had been. In these classes he led us forth in a process of discovery through improvisation and some very psychologically grueling exercises. We were forced to make even the slightest movement meaningful. Moving way beyond the pantomimic gestures of classical ballet we learned to express emotions and ideas through the dance movement itself in a completely believable way.

Quite often, Mr. Tudor would arrive early for his class or rehearsal and sit with my mother in her office to converse. Sometimes she would share these moments with me. A recurring subject for him seemed to be that of childbirth and the act of being a mother. It was as though he wished that he himself could have had the experience and never tired of asking questions about it. I always think about this when I watch, “Undertow,” and “Tiller in the Fields.” He would also share personal memories of his childhood, most of which centered around his mother and the songs she would sing to him. The imposing choreographic genius with the eyes of an eagle was also capable of being very sentimental.

I feel blessed to have seen and experienced the many sides of this complex man.

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