Sunday, November 02, 2008

American Ballet Theatre, Sun Oct. 31st (Part I)

I was decidedly unhappy about ABT scheduling their all-Tudor evening on Halloween. Even after I'd bought my ticket I was wishy-washy about going, but I'm glad I did because it was my favorite evening of the three I attended. I liked everything but particularly loved "Jardin aux Lilas" and "Pillar of Fire," with the latter being my favorite in large part because of Gillian Murphy's fantastic performance. 

I've been reading Judith Chazin-Bennahum's The Ballets of Antony Tudor: Studies in Psyche and Satire and have particularly enjoyed seeing the ballets at the same time as learning more about them. Anyway, rather than witter on endlessly about the ballets, I thought I'd share some of the most interesting excerpts from the book in reference to the ballets ABT danced a couple days ago. 

The evening began with "Continuo," which Tudor choreographed in the early '70s. Chazin-Bennahum doesn't have much to say about it but she does quote Tudor's notes for the labanotation score. He writes, "It is one long lyrical out-pouring. The movement flow never stops. The 'steps' should be linked with freedom and abandon." Bennahum notes that, "this quality of linkage characterized Tudor's movement style and is often the most prominent feature noted by critics." I was glad to see this slight ballet and enjoyed watching the all-corps cast. It was a light start to an evening that otherwise featured more substantial work.

"Jardin aux Lilas" was the second ballet performed and while I'm not sure I was quite convinced, dramatically, I wonder if it's partially that sitting so far back one doesn't necessarily see the tiny details. Well, for viewers with eyes and minds that are well-trained when it comes to watching dance I imagine it's possible to see the tiny subtleties, but for me it's not. One of the things Chazin-Bennahum emphasizes in writing about "Jardin" is the contrast between outward propriety and interior turmoil. She explains:
Tudor instinctively understood the disguises people wear in order to separate their feelings from a certain persona. The Tudor who grew up as William Cook in the East End watching the activity of the West Enders realized that behind the froth and wealth lay real feelings and conflicts.
Later, she quotes the original Caroline, Maude Lloyd, talking about this conflict and how it propels the ballet:
You can't make a big gesture. It has to be small but it has to be effective, and that means you have to have tension. And that ballet is full of tensions and fluid movements all mixed up one after the other. It's quite an extraordinary ballet in which sometimes you have to show your emotions with your back to the person you're emoting about, or standing side by side without looking at them. You still have to let the audience know what you are feeling.  
Bennahum also discusses the ballet in the context of its time, noting that London was," "becoming an important artistic crossroads," with immigrants playing a vital part in the development of the arts community. She glancingly, mentions that the appeal of the Edwardian period in which the ballet is set can be seen in part as a reaction to the times, writing:
Tudor felt a particular affinity for the Edwardian period. Although Edwardians questioned established institutions, they knew enough not to disturb their affluent status quo. Edwardian prosperity and glitter, social stability, and spacious ease represented halcyon times before the cataclysm of World War I. Thus Caroline's forced marriage for money and social position represented a perpetuation of ritualized and convenient class choices.
Disappointingly, Chazin-Bennahum doesn't go further in looking at the ballet as a product of its time or in the context of what other British artists are creating. I think that would have been worthwhile. She describes the Edwardian period as halcyon, which I suppose is true if one looks back in nostalgia on what was, in some ways, the last gasp of the Victorian era. Less true if you consider the number of people living in extreme poverty. We also see in the Edwardian era the beginning of social trends that were accelerated, not created, by the first World War. So the period between the World Wars, during which Tudor created "Jardin aux Lilas," was one of massive change in Britain less because of immigrants coming into the community than because there was a change to the structure of society itself, with the deeply ingrained class system shifting and the encroachment of the middle and lower classes upon the traditional domains of the upper class. Class was moving from something defined by birth to something defined by money. That's something that many writers and other artists were addressing around the time Tudor choreographed "Jardin aux Lilas" and it seems to me rather relevant to the ballet, which for all it's inventiveness presents what was essentially a conservative world view. I wish Chazin-Bennahum had looked at that in her book. Still, it's interesting to think about.

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