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The Tudor legacy: masterpieces in trust.

Happily for succeeding generations of dancers and audiences, Antony Tudor, one of the great choreographers of our era, had the foresight (with a little help from his friends) to provide for the continuity of his ballets. This is rather remarkable since Tudor was notorious for never signing anything. He had posted on his mantel - the author knows; she sent it to him after the frustration of trying to get a contract signed - the scene from the Marx Brothers's A Night at the Opera in which Groucho shreds a contract by ripping out clauses, one by one. ("The party of the first part? Why do we need the party of the first part? I don't like that party." Rip!)

About ten years before his 1987 death, Tudor told his longtime friend Anthony Bliss, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera and a partner in the law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, that he wanted to draw up a will. Those of us who knew Tudor well had been urging him to do just that, particularly in light of the estate problems that arose after the deaths of Jose Limon and Charles Weidman. Bliss referred him to a young associate, Jay Swanson, who drew up the Tudor Trust, which would be left the rights to all his ballets. In accordance with Tudor's lifelong belief in the corrupting power of money in individual hands, the financial beneficiaries were to be three nonprofit organizations: The Dance Notation Bureau, the Dance Division of the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts (a branch of the New York Public Library), and a third group to be chosen by the sole trustee and coexecutor (with Swanson) of the estate, former Tudor dancer Sally Brayley Bliss. In the event of Bliss becoming incapacitated, the responsibility of running the trust was to be assumed by another former Tudor dancer, Nancy King Zeckendorf. Later, when Swanson left the law, his duties vis-a-vis the trust were assumed by Jonathan Bell of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

Tudor's works themselves, as well as his methods of staging them, were fragile, mysterious, unorthodox, idiosyncratic. Although he created roles that are technically demanding, he was interested in characterization, never in technical displays or star turns. On occasion a dance had to be dropped from a company's repertory because he was not satisfied with the casting. His rehearsal procedure had at least as much to do with Stanislavsky and with Freud as it did with Petipa. How does one maintain these standards and yet encourage performance? Who has the right to deny dancers and audiences access to Tudor's unique and moving contribution to the art of our century?

These are the issues faced by Bliss in administering the Tudor estate. She is very aware that many Tudor acolytes don't agree that the dances should be seen as often as possible. Says Bliss, "I feel that when dancers today work on a Tudor ballet, they are affected in a positive and profound way. That is why all companies who can do Tudor should. His work gives a whole other dimension to dance."

It is her responsibility - one that she does not carry lightly - to see that the ballets are set as faithfully as possible, in accordance with the qualities he demanded. "Every time I see a performance or coach dancers," Bliss says, "I hear his voice in the background. There is always something that is not quite perfect, but because of the enigmatic nature of the work, it never can be perfect. Tudor thought so as well. But we must try to do them in the best possible way, so they continue to live into the next century and beyond."

Bliss sees every company before licensing it to perform a Tudor work. She looks for dancers who "dance from their souls." Sometimes she recommends one of his shorter or less demanding ballets if she feels that the piece the company requested is inappropriate for its current dancers or resources. The idea is that the company can go on to a more challenging work if the first one goes well. License and royalty fees are kept reasonable, in accordance with Tudor's wishes. Generally a dance is licensed for a three-year period. It must be staged by an official representative of the estate (one of about a dozen people, all of whom worked personally with Tudor), and cast changes must be approved by the trust. Also in league with Tudor's faith in people rather than in contracts, the license must be reviewed after any change in the artistic direction of a company. In addition to licensing, one of the major goals of the trust is to assemble as much documentation of the ballets as possible. Continuing the task begun by Tudor himself, Bliss aims to have the works videotaped and recorded in Labanotation. Notation scores for most of Tudor's major works were created while he was still alive: Jardin aux Lilas, Dark Elegies, Judgment of Paris, Pillar of Fire, Dim Lustre, Offenbach in the Underworld, Shadowplay, The Leaves Are Fading, and Tiller in the Fields, as well as some of the smaller works: Soiree Musicale, Little Improvisations, Fandango, Sunflowers, Cereus, Continuo.

Thus far, Bliss has arranged for the notation of Echoing of Trumpets, Gala Performance, and, with the help of original-cast member Elizabeth Schooling, sections of The Planets, as well as definitive revisions of Little Improvisations, Jardin aux Lilas, and Continuo. (Tudor often changed the dances, although he vehemently denied it.) Scheduled for notation next is the complete Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Says Bliss, "I believe strongly in Labanotation. It works. Musically you can never be wrong, and with Tudor that is half the battle. With videotape, there is always the possibility that the dancer will make a mistake technically or musically, and then you are in trouble. Tapes are really only good if you know the work and can identify what is wrong. Notation is there, and it doesn't make a mistake." She believes that the most successful stagings are done from the notation in conjunction with expert coaching.

Her greatest frustration is the difficulty of locating and collecting all of the production material for the dances. For several of the works she does not yet have renderings of either sets or costumes. For example, there is no rendering of the original set for Jardin, although she has located a wonderful color slide of the original costumes at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, in which the men wear heavy coats. In addition there are costume designs at Lincoln Center's Dance Collection, but Caroline's costume is missing. Pillar of Fire and Dark Elegies also lack renderings. "I ask every company which stages these works to please do this for me, but they never seem to get around to it."

Has the demand for Tudor ballets slacked off since his death? "Not at all," says Bliss. "In fact, there are few major companies that don't want a Tudor ballet." Recent and upcoming restagings attest to the international demand: Pillar of Fire at La Scala, the Teatro Comunale during the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence, and with the Birmingham Royal Ballet in England; Echoing of Trumpets performed by American Ballet Theatre and the Queensland Ballet in Australia; Jardin for Louisville Ballet, Ballet du Theatre Capitole du Toulouse, and the Star Dancers in Japan; and Dark Elegies for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Also planned are a full Tudor evening by Louisville Ballet, a revival of Tragedy 6f Romeo and Juliet for American Ballet Theatre, and Dim Lustre for the fiftieth anniversary of New York City Ballet in 1997.

It is a comfort to know that some of our choreographic heritage is being well cared for. For those of us who are Tudor fans, the creation of the Tudor Trust is a gift - his final gift. Thank you, Tudor.

Muriel Topaz, a Dance Magazine editorial consultant, was director of the Juilliard School Dance Division (1985-92) and executive director of the Dance Notation Bureau (1978-85).
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Title Annotation:Anthony Tudor; Tudor Trust
Author:Topaz, Muriel
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Biography
Date:Feb 1, 1996
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