BWW Review: New York Theatre Ballet's ANTONY TUDOR CELEBRATION
New York Theatre Ballet presented, by arrangement with The Estate of Antony Tudor and The Antony Tudor Trust, an A. Tudor Celebration. The night was a treasure trove of ballets by the great English choreographer Antony Tudor: three of his masterpieces from the 1930s, originally staged in London and an unearthed gem from 1952. All of the works are as entertaining, modern, and gloriously viable today as in the 1930s. Three of these masterworks were former staples of American Ballet Theatre's repertory but are rarely seen today. One of the highlights and the event of the evening was the presentation of Tudor's little-known 1952 Trio Con Brio.
The evening began with a gorgeous and radiant staging by New York Theatre Ballet director Diana Byer of Tudor's Jardin Aux Lilas, also known as Lilac Garden. The ballet was first staged for the Rambert Ballet Club at the Mercury Theatre in London on January 26, 1936. American Ballet Theatre presented this Tudor masterwork (one of the first Tudor ballets staged in the United States) on January 15, 1940 at the Center Theatre in New York. For decades it was one of American Ballet Theatre's signature works and American Ballet Theatre lent their costumes for New York Theatre Ballet's production. New York City Ballet also staged a new production of Lilac Garden on November 30, 1951 at the City Center. The ballet is set in the Edwardian era. A young woman, Caroline, is betrothed to The Man She Must Marry but does not love. On her wedding eve, she tries to say goodbye to Her Lover at a reception in a lilac garden. The former lover of The Man She Must Marry, An Episode in His Past, is also at the reception. The emotionally charged interaction between the four principals and ensemble is set to Ernest Chausson's poignant Poème for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 25. Although the ballet vocabulary used is simple, the choreography, with its lush layering of emotional content is dense, expansive, and profoundly moving. Elena Zahlmann as Caroline, Steven Melendez as Her Lover and Rie Ogura as An Episode in His Past were powerful and clear in their dancing and their acting. Their gestures and movements glowed and resonated from within. The Friends and Relations of the ensemble were equally impressive. Guest star Charles Askegard's elegant and eloquently danced portrayal of the Man She Must Marry was an outstanding treat.
Trio Con Brio, set to music by Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka, was a choreographic delight from start to finish. This wonderful dream of a ballet was meticulously re-constructed from a 1952 film from a Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival performance. In the post-performance talk, the story of its two-year painstaking reconstruction was told. Kudos to all involved in bringing this charming hidden diamond to brilliant light. A very interesting facet of the talk was that a small piece of the film had been burned out in of one of the men's solos. This missing link was beautifully restored by Lance Westergard. The men, Steven Melendez and Choong Hoon Lee, gave strong and clean bravura performances. The lyrical, technically sure and lovely Amanda Treiber gave a radiant and beautifully nuanced performance.
Tudor's dark but hysterically funny Judgment of Paris to music by Kurt Weill is always a crowd-pleaser. This piece is so cleverly done that it is both tragic and comic. Tudor puts a twist on the Greek myth of Paris and the muses Juno, Venus and Minerva, by placing them in a seedy bar. The muses here are ladies of the night, bored and over-the-hill, vying to be the choice of a drunken customer. All the solos were by entertainingly performed by Melissa Sadler, Diana Byer Elena Zahlmann. Ms. Zahlmann's dance with the hoops is a comedic ballet classic.
Dark Elegies remains to this day one of the most remarkable psychological "modern" ballets ever made and is one of the most beautiful, eloquent, and heart breaking expressions of grief in the entire dance canon. It is often called his greatest ballet and was his favorite. Set to Gustav Mahler's Kindertotenlider (Songs on the Deaths of Children), it takes place in a village community of eight women and four men who have lost their children. The tone of the piece is desolation. An unanswered resolution is met with a pervasive sadness and resignation. New York Theatre Ballet performs Dark Elegies without the original Nadia Benois scenery and to taped music. The Company deserves funding for an orchestra and the presence of a baritone onstage with the dancers, as in the original productions. Even without the scenic and musical complements that complete this masterwork, New York Theatre Ballet's production is sensitively staged with superb attention to detail by Donald Mahler. This performance resonated with moving performances from the principals and the excellent ensemble. Notable were Rie Orgura, Carmella Lauer, Steven Melendez, Stephen Campanella, Elena Zahlmann and Choong Hoon Lee for their command of Tudor's extraordinary musicality and emotional depth in his choreography.
New York Theatre Ballet deserves to be seen in New York more frequently and in larger venues that could accommodate scenery and live musicians. They are that good. Better than good, they are wonderful, and New York City is extremely fortunate to have this small, and yet important, ballet organization that presents major works we do not see often enough and gives us lost jewels such as Trio Con Brio that otherwise we might never see.