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Milwaukee Ballet, Marcus Center, Milwaukee, April 2-5, 1998.

Milwaukee Ballet has what it takes to be a major professional ballet company. It has an experienced artistic director, Basil Thompson; a company of twenty-two attractive, well-trained dancers; talented apprentices; a symphony orchestra with a ballet-focused conductor; a large, well-equipped theater in a recently built state-of-the-art performing arts center; and a flourishing school. Backed by these assets the company presented a program of ballets by Antony Tudor (1908-1987), featuring the rarely seen Dark Elegies and Judgment of Paris, plus Gala Performance and Continuo.

With the dance community supporting its current leadership and facilities, the company was able to secure the approval for its Tudor productions as well as the assistance of the exacting Tudor Ballet Trust and the Dance Notation Bureau. Sallie Wilson, a specialist in Tudor works, staged Judgment of Paris and Gala Performance; and Donald Mahler, who had worked with Tudor during the great choreographer's years with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, staged Dark Elegies and Continuo.

The program opened with Continuo (1971), set to the familiar Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel, a lyric piece created by Tudor in the last decades of his career. Responding to a request for a ballet for young dancers, he made use of his profound musicality and his command of the vocabulary of classical ballet to make the kind of dance that dancers love to perform. Milwaukee Ballet breezed through it.

Tudor had a sardonic sense of humor, and he gave it full rein in Judgment of Paris (1938), set to selections from Kurt Weill's sardonic Threepenny Opera. It was truly dark humor to transpose the myth of the shepherd lad Paris, judging the goddesses Juno, Venus, and Minerva for the prize of the golden apple, from sunny Greece to a sleazy nightclub where three tired, over-age trollops vie for the favors and wallet of the lone drunken customer. Wilson's exacting coaching of Milwaukee's Anne Finch and Susan Tanner brought memories of Ballet Theatre's introduction of the ballet with Lucia Chase waving her moth-eaten feather boa and Agnes de Mille, in an awful blond wig, clumsily climbing in and out of too-narrow hoops. An extra dividend in the Milwaukee performance was the appearance of theater-wise artistic director Thompson as the dishonest waiter, a role originally performed by Tudor.

On this program Tudor's choreographic genius was most evident in the depth of feelings he evoked in Dark Elegies (1937), the masterly ballet set to Gustav Mahler's Kindertotenlieder ("Songs on the Death of Children"). Tudor created the mood of profound sorrow in a grieving community of simple folk. There is no beating of breasts, just the heartbreaking questioning and acceptance of bereavement.

In Dark Elegies the choreographer shunned the aerial steps and twirling pointes of classical ballet, usually tuned to happiness. To suit the mourning community he invented subdued yet intricate movements communicating sadness. It is noteworthy that only the leading female dancers wear shoes, but only to step softly onto pointe--nary a releve or pirouette.

The closing ballet was the hilarious Gala Performance (1938, to Prokofiev), Tudor's send-up of the egotism and barefaced exhibitionism of ballerinas. He mocked the manners, the pirouettes, and the precarious balances of the primas. Although no dancer has equaled Nora Kaye's devastating portrayal of the Russian ballerina, Milwaukee's Mireille Favarel succeeded in arousing gleeful laughter.
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Author:Barzel, Ann
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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