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“All the couples who dance together are in love…”

Preview of Ballet West's “Leaves Are Fading” at the Edinburgh International Festival

by Kate Snedeker

August, 2004

When Ballet West performs in the Edinburgh International Festival this month, the company's repetoire will pay tribute to Antony Tudor, a British-born choreographer who made his mark in the United States. Of the three Tudor ballets that the company will be dancing, "Offenbach in the Underworld", "Leaves Are Fading" and "Lilac Garden", "Leaves Are Fading" is particularly special to the Ballet West and its Artistic Director, Jonas Kåge.

Nineteen years ago, when "Leaves Are Fading" debuted on the stage of the New York State Theatre, the central pas de deux was danced by two of American Ballet Theatre's talented dancers, a young American, Gelsey Kirkland and a Swede, Jonas Kåge. The opportunity to work with Tudor was the end of one balletic circle for Kåge, who was a student at the Royal Swedish Ballet School when Tudor briefly directed the company in 1963-64. Another circle was completed in 1997, when Kåge brought "Leaves Are Fading" to the stage with new generation of dancers as the artistic director of Ballet West. And now, perhaps, the performances in Edinburgh will mark the conclusion of yet another circle as Kåge brings "Leaves Are Fading" back to the country of Tudor's birth.

Premiered on July 17, 1975, "Leaves Are Fading" was one of Antony Tudor's last ballets and it marked his return to American Ballet Theatre, this time as associate artistic director, after an absence of nearly 25 years. The creation of “Leaves Are Fading” followed a five-year period of relative choreographic silence during which he made no major ballets, but did choreograph several short pieces for his students at the Julliard School.

Unlike Tudor’s earlier works, "Leave Are Fading" is essentially abstract - a few wisps of a story combined with the emotions of the music and steps, leaving plenty of room for the viewer to create his or her own meaning. In her book "The Ballets of Antony Tudor", Judith Chazin-Bennahum quotes an interview with Tudor, in which he says about the ballet, "It's a piece without any story at all ... if I see a human body on the stage, I don't see it as an abstraction. I see it as a body. So I would not call this new work of mine 'abstract'. Rather, I would call it empty".

The setting is unadorned, but elegant - a forest as imagined in Ming Cho Lee's "simple yet elegant backdrops" in brown tinged greens. A branch bearing greenish leaves hints at the season - it is that time of year when the trees are no longer bedecked in the lush green of summer and not yet in the full color of fall ... the leaves are fading. The fading colors are also reflected in the hand-painted chiffon dresses and matching shirts for the men, both designed by Patricia Zipprodt.

Tudor's choice of Anton Dvorak's soft and romantic "Cypresses" (as well as parts of String Quartet Op. 73 & 80 and "Terzetto") for "Leaves are Fading" is fitting, both in the setting and in the mood of the ballet. In an interview with Marilyn Hunt, Tudor commented, "In 'Leaves are Fading', all the couples who dance together are in love, one way or another,” and the ballet seems to explore the themes of romance and the passing of life.

The ballet can be seen as a reflection by the principal female character on her life and loves as she passes into the fall of life. As Jonas Kåge says, "'The Leaves Are Fading' is a wonderful example of beauty and romance of past expressed through Tudor's silvery choreography. In this piece, every movement appears to have a purpose - as if Tudor himself was using this work to retrace his own memories of youth."

The ballet begins with that principal female walking slowly across the stage deep in her own thoughts. As she leaves, eight women in green dresses take the stage, dancing in groups of three or four, eventually joined by four men. Of these young people, Balanchine in his "Festival of Ballets”, says they "appear to know each other; the world they inhabit seems to be familiar."

The ensuing dances are youthful, with airy lifts and un-rushed grand jetées by then men. The ensemble section segues into a touching pas de deux marked by allegro steps. The next pas deux, originated by Kirkland and Kåge, is what Balanchine calls an "expression of rapturous feeling" and embodies, as Chazin-Bennahum describes, "sweet love remembered". The movements are flowing, with floating lifts and lush arabesques. More "tender", the third and final pas de deux ends with the reappearance of the ensemble. The ballet comes to end with the reappearance of the principal female, again walking across the stage, this time holding a small bouquet of flowers. Briefly watching the scene, she leaves, her reminiscences have ended.

Since the first performance in 1975, when "Leaves are Fading" was danced by Kim Highton, Marianna Tcherkassky, Amy Blaisdell, Nanette Glushak, Linda Kuchera, Kristine Elliot, Hilda Morales, Elizabeth Ashton, Christine O'Neill, Michael Owen, Raymond Serrano, Charles Ward, Richard Schafer, Clark Tippet, Gelsey Kirkland and Jonas Kåge.  "Leaves are Fading" has remained in the American Ballet Theatre repertory and was last seen in 2003. Other companies that have performed the ballet include the Royal Ballet, the Deutsche Oper, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Kirov Ballet and the Tulsa Ballet.

The ballet came into the Ballet West repertory when it was staged by American Ballet Theatre principal dancers, Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner, as well as Kåge. Ballet West's first performance was on September 18, 1997 at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City, with sets and costumes obtained from the National Ballet of Canada. In the years since the Ballet West debut, many of the original dancers have departed or retired, so the Edinburgh performances will be a chance for new and younger dancers to experience the magic of Tudor's choreography. Current dancers who have danced in “Leaves Are Fading” include principals Maggie Wright, Seth Olson and Tong Wang.

Ballet West's performances of "Leaves are Fading" will take place August 27 through August 30 at the Edinburgh Playhouse. More information is available at the Festival website, www.eif.co.uk.

Though no pictures of Ballet West in "Leaves Are Fading" are available, many images of Ballet Tulsa performances are available in the Legends of the Fall section of Christopher Jean-Richards ballet photography website. An excerpt from the ballet, danced by Amanda McKerrow & John Gardner can be seen on the video/DVD "Variety & Virtuosity: ABT Now".

 


Edited by Stuart

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