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Ballet West

Tudor Triple Bill: ‘Lilac Garden’, ‘The Leaves are Fading’, ‘Offenbach in the Underworld’

August 2004
Edinburgh, Playhouse

by Lynette Halewood

© Douglas Robertson

'Lilac Garden' reviews

'Leaves are Fading' reviews

'Offenbach' reviews

Wright in reviews

Olsen in reviews

recent Ballet West reviews

more Lynette Halewood reviews

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There was a fairly full house for Ballet West at the Edinburgh festival, though neither the company nor the programme were particularly familiar to audiences. Although English by birth, Tudor’s works are thin on the ground in the UK: you have to look carefully for them. The Royal did a few performances of Lilac Garden a season or so back, and then had a brief run of Leaves are Fading, which did not linger in the repertory. In the 90s, BRB did Pillar of Fire. Dark Elegies was a key work in the evolution of Rambert, but is very rarely performed today. So three works by Tudor on one programme is a rarity. It cannot be said that the Edinburgh Playhouse is the most suitable setting for a choreographer whose reputation is based on the intimate and detailed portrayal of characters and relationships. It is a great barn of a place, capable of holding nearly three thousand people, with a wide but shallow stage which visiting companies have often found tricky.

The three works spanned Tudor’s entire career, from his early Lilac Garden, which established a new direction and agenda for British ballet in the thirties, to the fifties romp of Offenbach in the Underworld to the later (seventies) wistful dreaminess of Leaves are Fading. Ballet West are a new visitor to the UK: they are not a large or major company in the US, but there is a key link to Tudor. Ballet West’s Artistic Director, Jonas Kage, created a central role in Leaves are Fading, and this has been in the repertory of Ballet West for seven years. The other Tudor works are newer to Ballet West, with the Offenbach receiving its company premiere at the Edinburgh Festival. The company does not have the resources to field major stars, and some of the corps look young and perhaps inexperienced, but they worked hard and had a real sense of engagement with the material which made the pieces they were more familiar with come alive. In their hands, Leaves are Fading had more life about it than the rather insipid production recently at the RB.


(Right)Michael Bearden & Annie Breneman, (left) Hua Zhuang & Christiana Bennett in Antony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading
© Douglas Robertson

Leaves are Fading is still, ultimately a rather wispy and frail work – memories of young love evoked via a series of pas de deux. It is a little too sweet and cloying for my taste, with its pastel pink costumes and dreamy air. Here it was much better lit than the RB version, and the individual details emerged much more clearly. A little more unanimity would be welcome in the corps. Maggie Wright and Seth Olsen gave a good account of the lead couple – little shifts and progressions within their relationship came across very well. It was pleasant, but is still hard to make a case for this as a really major work.

Lilac Garden is obviously in a different class. This is so concentrated and honed, where Leaves is diffuse and repetitive. Lilac Garden was Tudor’s first great success in the 1930s: it shows us a woman, Caroline, on the verge of an arranged marriage to someone she does not care for. In the garden of the title, she tries to snatch moments with her lover: meanwhile a discarded mistress confronts her husband to be. A chorus of friends perpetually disrupts the proceedings. There is no great pas de deux for the lovers – just snatched moments. Everything is in the details – the position of an arm, a turn of the head. There is nothing extraneous or wasted: every gesture is there for a reason. Certainly not ideal for a venue such as the Playhouse.

Lilac Garden somehow manages to convince as a major work even if the individual performances don’t gel. I’ve never managed to see the really affecting performance that must exist somewhere. (I’d be very willing to give it another go – Yanowsky in the Linbury, for preference, since you ask.) Ballet West gave a thoughtful and careful performance, with some nicely observed details (particularly from the one of the friends). Christiania Bennet was Caroline, with Michael Bearden as her lover. Seth Olson was the man, with Kate Crews as an Episode in His Past. It was a production which had clearly been put together with care, but the impact of the despair and longing that the dance was designed to generate never quite came across as forcefully as they might.


Christopher Rudd & Kristin Hakala in Antony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading
© Douglas Robertson

Offenbach in the Underworld is a romp, set in a bar in 1870s Paris, with characters enjoying brief flirtations with each other. This was very well received by the audience – it was the obvious closing piece. Christopher Ruud was a notable success as His Imperial Excellency, really throwing himself into the part and into the arms of the women with some relish. Kristin Hakala also made an impact as the Operetta star. Some of the other characters were less strongly drawn. The company looked as if they were having a terrific time. Technically, there were things one might quibble with, a little more work on some of the partnering for instance, but they were a likeable group. A very jolly time is had by all: it’s hard to dislike this piece, but equally, it is difficult to put this forward as a neglected masterpiece.

It was good to have the opportunity to see these three works, and the Festival exists to give this sort of possibility – the works we don’t normally see. However, Tudor might generally be better sampled as part of a triple bill with works by others, to contrast his methods with theirs. The printed programme (usually something of a disappointment) contains a short but pungent essay on Tudor’s achievement by Clement Crisp, which chooses to stress other works (apart from Lilac Garden) as his more significant achievements. (Annoyingly it contains some good photos with absolutely no credits concerning dancers, production or photographer). Rambert are performing Dark Elegies in Edinburgh at the close of the Festival – very much worth catching, because they are not touring this work subsequently. Tudor seems destined to remain elusive in the UK.

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