Antony Tudor: The Pioneer of Psychological Ballet

Antony Tudor: The Pioneer of Psychological Ballet

Antony Tudor (born William Cook; 4 April 1908 – 19 April 1987) was an English ballet choreographer, teacher and dancer who founded the London Ballet and later the Philadelphia Ballet Guild in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., in the mid-1950s. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential and innovative choreographers of the 20th century, who developed the so-called psychological ballet.

Tudor began his dance studies at 19 years of age with Marie Rambert, a former Diaghilev Ballet dancer who taught the Cecchetti method. He choreographed his first ballet, Cross-Gartered, based on an incident in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, for her company in 1931. He created several other works for Rambert’s Ballet Club, including his two most revolutionary ballets, Jardin aux lilas (Lilac Garden) and Dark Elegies, before the age of thirty. He also danced the main roles in his own ballets.

In 1938, he founded his own company, the London Ballet, with Rambert members, including his future life partner Hugh Laing, Andrée Howard, Agnes de Mille, Peggy van Praagh, Maude Lloyd and Walter Gore. With the onset of World War II, in 1940 he was invited with them to New York, joining Richard Pleasant’s and Lucia Chase’s reorganized Ballet Theater. Chase’s company was later to become the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), with which Tudor was closely associated for the rest of his life.

He was a resident choreographer with Ballet Theater for ten years, restaging some of his earlier works but also creating new works, such as his great Pillar of Fire (1942), Romeo and Juliet (1943), Dim Lustre (1943) and Undertow (1945), on that company by the end of the war. He retired from dancing in 1950 and became associated with the ballet and ballet school of the Metropolitan Opera. He also taught at the Juilliard School recurrently from 1950 onwards and mentored dancers of color at the Philadelphia Ballet Guild, which he established in the mid-1950s.

Tudor’s choreography ranges from the tragic Dark Elegies (1937) to the comic Gala Performance (1938). His reputation, however, rests chiefly on his dramatic psychological ballets, which explored such themes as grief, jealousy, rejection and frustration. Although limiting himself to classical techniques, he sought to convey states of emotional conflict and aspects of character and motivation by such means as the elimination of purely decorative choreography, a subtle and painstaking use of gesture and the symbolic as well as narrative use of the corps de ballet.

Many artists rose to prominence in his works, most notably the ballerina Nora Kaye in his first American-made ballet Pillar of Fire and the dramatic danseur Hugh Laing. In 1974 Tudor was appointed associate director of ABT and in 1977 was joined in that position by Kaye. He also served as an artistic director for the Royal Swedish Ballet in 1963 and 1964. He died in New York City in 1987 and his ashes are buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.

Tudor is a titan of twentieth century ballet whose legacy lives on through his ballets and his trust. The Antony Tudor Ballet Trust was established in 1998 to preserve Tudor’s works and to license them to professional companies around the world. The trust also provides scholarships for young dancers and organizes workshops and master classes on Tudor’s style and technique.


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