Imaginary Lives

The chamber-sized New York Theatre Ballet is determined not to let the genius of Antony Tudor disappear from view. For an all-Tudor program (Florence Gould Hall, May 1 through 3), Diana Byer, who heads the company, staged Fandango—an excursion for five tempestuous senoritas that simultaneously glorifies and satirizes classical ballet's urge to co-opt Spanish dance. Sallie Wilson, one of Tudor's most qualified conservators, mounted the perennially poignant Jardin aux Lilas and the sardonic, tragedy-tinged Judgment of Paris, as well as a forgotten curiosity, Les Mains Gauches, an exercise in chichi surrealism studded with wry quotes from Balanchine's Apollo, which she restored for the occasion.

Tudor is neglected because he doesn't suit the dominant taste of our time, for grand-scale extravaganza, which degenerates all too easily into flash and trash. Having wrested a uniquely expressive language from ballet's traditional abstract vocabulary, he offers instead a piercing view of human psychology and a profound sympathy for the workings of the more-often-than-not defeated heart. Who but Tudor would reinvent the trio of goddesses competing for Paris's affections as tawdry, discouraged whores—and then let them win our sympathy? Small in scale and few in number, his dances are immense in their stock of perception, thought, and feeling. Tudor belongs in the 20th-century choreographic pantheon consisting of Balanchine, Ashton, and Fokine, but his right to that place is unlikely to be upheld by popular vote—or, alas, justified by New York Theatre Ballet's productions.

The company deserves praise and thanks for the unflagging effort it makes on behalf of Tudor's oeuvre, and Wilson's stagings are scrupulous and sensitive. But these dancers lack both the athletic prowess and the emotive power to reanimate the choreography as searing theater, let alone as that Tudor specialty—the sense that life is a profound, disturbing, and compelling enigma.

 
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