STAGE TUBE: Antony Tudor's LILAC GARDEN Premiere, January 26, 1936
Antony Tudor's Jardin aux Lilas (also known by its American title Lilac Garden) was first presented by Ballet Rambert on January 26, 1936 at The Mercury Theatre in London. Set in the Edwardian era to music by Ernest Chausson the ballet depicts the story of a young woman who is engaged to a man she does not love, pitted against her passion for the man she cannot marry.
Tudor was known as the Proust of ballet. Unlike Balanchine he did not focus on the dancer's technique, rather he sought to expose the ardor, intensity and distress in the characters the dancers portrayed on the stage. His use of the ballet vocabulary could seem basic and simple, but looking beyond the gesture or the quick glance one could detect deep meaning and overpowering passion.
I would like to let Antony Tudor's words speak for Lilac Garden:
Jardin aux Lilas" is more often requested by companies for inclusion in their repertory than any of my other ballets, and is often asked for by groups with little experience and small resources in matters of technique, personal, or training. It must be supposed that, to a director, it must seem very practical in every way, but this is a misconception and a delusion. And the delusions seem to include that of regarding this piece as "romantic", because there is a romanticism about the scenery with its overwhelming masses of lilacs, and of the predominantly blue lighting, for the dim light filtering through from the right off-stage area where we suppose the house to be is the only other color used.
This ballet concerns itself with the hiding of emotions from public display, but still conveying through the performance the emotions that were being concealed. As is the case with the majority of my ballets the performers must recognize the existence of the audience's presence and the fourth side of the stage in "Jardin aux Lilas" is as much overgrown with lilacs in the old part of a manor house garden as are painted scenery on stage, and the proscenium arch is not there in essence. And the audience is witnessing the action clandestinely.
Tudor was notorious for his rehearsals. He would spend hours centering on a hand gesture. While others were impatient and did not conform to his choreographic ideas there were many such as Nora Kaye, Hugh Laing. Agnes De Mille, Jerome Robbins, Sallie Wilson, Cynthia Gregory, Anthony Dowell, Natalia Makarova, Lynn Seymour, Dana Adams, Gelsey Kirkland, Alessandra Ferri and Amanda McKerrow, all of whom repeatedly praised him and triumphed when appearing in his works.
Lilac Garden was first presented by Ballet Theatre (later American Ballet Theatre) at the Center Theatre on January 15, 1940. Although it has remained in the repertoire since then, it is infrequently revived, as are the other extant Tudor ballets. This is a pity because Tudor's works deserve repeated viewings. We are touched us by the emotions and sentiments they so vividly suggest by their restraint and self-possession.
Luckily there are some videos which tell us why Tudor was considered the psychologist of ballet. After viewing them you might want to attend a performance of Lilac Garden the next time it is performed.
JARDIN AUX LILAS
Dancers (from left): Hugh Laing, Maude Lloyd, Antony Tudor, and Peggy Van Praagh
(Photograph from the Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts,
Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations