ISSN 0522-0653, 6 x 9 in, 100 pages, 29 color photographs
From the current issue…
On Tudor and his ballets
Casting the right dancers – in every role, not only the leads – remains today, as it was for Tudor himself, crucial to enabling his ballets to live fully. I will never forget an exquisite, heartrending performance of Lilac Garden at ABT led by Ekaterina Shelkanova as Caroline in November 2000. However, critics and audience members who witnessed productions the choreographer himself supervised have often complained in recent years of a lack of precision and nuance in rhythm, accent, and gesture, or a superficial dramatic approach in restagings of Tudor’s work. The ballets are said to be difficult to teach because they demand subtleties of character development and musicianship requiring more rehearsal time than can be allocated to them, and because today’s dancers lack the appropriate training or aptitude or spirit for Tudor’s style.
Part of what dancers now generally lack is experience in the Cecchetti technique, the method upon which English ballet was founded in the 1930s. I do not mean the technique reduced to a fossilized array of rote exercises (a vice to which Cecchetti has proven oddly prone, especially in England), but as a system of principles, without which Tudor’s style (and Ashton’s too) can never wholly make sense. With all his dancers in London, and with many in his early years in New York, Tudor spoke Cecchetti as a native (if late acquired) dance dialect. (One of Tudor’s first decisions during his brief tenure as Ballet Theatre’s “artistic administrator” was to invite his erstwhile teacher from London, Margaret Craske, perhaps the century’s greatest Cecchetti teacher, to become the company’s ballet mistress in 1946.)
Sean Stewart, a dancer at ABT since 1997 who performed in many of the company’s Tudor revivals, told me that he always found the physical coordination in Tudor’s phrases, which can appear so silken and seamless to the eye, unexpectedly, frustratingly awkward – until he began to study from a Cecchetti teacher privately. As Stewart points out, Cecchetti’s up-and-forward placement liberates the torso and shoulders in a particular way essential to Tudor’s style (and Ashton’s also), while the technique’s emphasis on dynamic variety in footwork trains the body to understand, as Stewart says, that “the impulse in the step is already the impulse in the action, in the idea, in the drama – the step is the drama.”