In celebration of the centenary of Tudor's birth, one offers this review of "The Choreography of Antony Tudor, Focus on Four Ballets" by R.Chamberlain-Duerden. Fairleigh Dickinson U. Press, 2003
The four ballets of focus are: Jardin aux Lilas, Dark Elegies, Pillar of Fire, and The Leaves Are Fading.
“All of Tudor’s works are about Love.”
R. Chamberlain-Duerden opens, “The Choreography of Antony Tudor, Focus on Four Ballets,” with an avowal, “This book is a stage in a “Voyage of Discovery.” She explains further that she was “completely enthralled” by a 1980 performance in England of “Dark Elegies;” and, that “Never had I seen a ballet that so completely and successfully brought together choreography, music, theme, and design in a powerfully expressive way, leaving a deep and lasting impression.” One shares with Chamberlain-Duerden a “deep and lasting impression” of “Dark Elegies.” It is as if the ballet first dissolves and then replaces one’s sense of self with itself or in Rilke’s words, the ballet “serenely disdains to destroy us.” Yet, for all of the empathy and interest one has in Chamberlain-Duerden’s readable and helpful book, one resists, however, the philosophical justification of her critical method. That is to say that if reader/viewers set out on a similar Voyage of Discovery into the Ballets of Tudor and use her navigational method, a “reader-text-ideology” form of triangulation, then they will miss rather than find harbor in the works of Tudor.
An epigraph from the notes taken by Rush Rhees during a lecture given by Wittgenstein on Aesthetics launches Chapter Three’s “Forays into Interpretation.” In this quotation, Wittgenstein asks whether that if two poems remind a reader of death, does one poem then do the same work as the other. That the answer is clearly, “No. That each poem work’s differently,” prompts Chamberlain-Duerden to discuss the “indeterminacy” of an artwork’s “aboutness.” This cognitive tack about “aboutness,” or what a reader/viewer might be able to “name” in a work, one thinks, misses the path Wittgenstein wanted his students to take. That question, rather, means to focus his student’s attention upon the work done by the particularity of a poem’s perceptual rather than its formal aspects alone. The point here, one thinks, is that when compared that it is the affective power brought by the particulars of each poet’s choice, ordering, and sound of the words, for example, that accounts for the difference between the two poems rather than the putative ambiguity of their “aboutness.” Moreover, if one combines a lesson from Wittgenstein’s “Philosophical Investigations,” (a work listed in her bibliography) that one shows understanding of an artwork through “fine shades of behavior” with the point made by the “two poems” question, then, one sees that one’s understanding, taken as an aspect of engagement, with an artwork is brought by the command of its perceptual or affective features and the possibilities of identity those offer rather than any retrospectively noticed formal element. Seen in this way, “Dark Elegies,” for example, constitutes by virtue of its particularities an aspect of what one or we mean when we use words such as love and loss and redemption. Said in another way, we live, “go all the way up to,” the love, loss, redemption, and more of “Dark Elegies;” we weave this work into the conduct of our lives. And from this out look, one notes that Donald Mahler’s (of the Tudor Trust) insight that “ All of Tudor’s works are about love,” draws attention to the constitutive force of Tudor’s ballets; that is that each work strikes in us a deep chord, call it love’s connection, love’s tragedy, or love’s redemption et al., that resonates in every partial of our being. (The phrase, “go all the way up to…” comes from the “Philosophical Investigations”# 455 & 457.) In contrast, the gap between living and meaning inherent to Chamberlain-Duerden’s critical methodology tells one instead that the “text” or “Dark Elegies,” for instance, offers only “possibilities of meaning.” “Meanings”, moreover that are “constructed” of things or names or whatever that represent (somehow) some distant and soulless “ideology,” which in turn informs the consciousness of the basically passive “reader.”
And, of what could “meanings” be “constructed”? Presumably, the section in Chapter Three titled, “The Construction of Meaning in Tudor’s Ballets,” would guide the foraying voyager into the sure harbor of the “Text.” Alas, not so, for it is here that one’s ordinary bearings fail completely. Perhaps the words “There’s A Signpost Up Ahead” better signals the philosophy of mind one encounters here. Here Chamberlain-Duerden presents an installation of mind assembled from materials native to critical theory and a dualistic philosophy of art offered by Joseph Margolis. Her sculpture/picture shows that minds are isolated from the world and other minds; that “meanings” float for all are emergent (interpretations) and made of Teflon for none can bond to anything; and that, “meanings”- such as they are- circulate between three points located in epistemic space as: reader-text-ideology. Additionally, a formal “nuts and bolts” analysis (e.g. how the movement relates to the music, the choice, ordering, and use of gestures, and the so-called power relationships between male and female characters) as exemplified in the chapters focused on each of the four ballets works to identify and/or “release” the hidden “possibility of meanings.” One finds this “privileging” of cognitive over affective aspects of Tudor’s ballets misleading and prompts one to describe this “identify and/or release” idea as the Art of Litoxicritology or Waking the Dead. That is that the practitioners of this Art can either guard the “dead” or hidden “meanings” or awaken the “meanings” and “release” them into circulation. This philosophy of mind and hence the navigational aids offered by Chamberlain-Duerden’s skullpicture leads, one thinks, a voyager away from an engagement with the works of Tudor and into what James Joyce might call the “fiddlefodder of abfogcritive theropemes.” Rather than avowing the command of the sensual features of say “Dark Elegies” to flood a voyager with impressions and insights that can shape new or enrich identities, “The Choreography of Tudor” offers instead a benevolent but distracting search (a search that for Wittgenstein, as Stephen Mulhall suggests, exemplifies Original Sin) for the orbiting epistipons of Tudor’s “possibility of meaning.”