American Ballet dancers bring choreographer’s legacy to Washington University Dance Theater

| Staff Writer

From bringing the founder and CEO of Scottrade, Inc., to the John M. Olin School of Business to hosting “Saturday Night Live” star Kenan Thompson in Graham Chapel, Washington University has attracted major names to campus over the past couple of years. The Performing Arts Department is no exception: this past week, Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner served one of the guest artist residencies for the upcoming annual Washington University Dance Theater performances.

American Ballet Theater dancer  John Gardner instructs at a workshop class on Sunday, Nov. 2. Gardner and his wife, Amanda McKerrow, served as guest artists in residence, setting a ballet by Antony Tudor.Whitney Curtis | WUSTL Photo Services

American Ballet Theater dancer John Gardner instructs at a workshop class on Sunday, Nov. 2. Gardner and his wife, Amanda McKerrow, served as guest artists in residence, setting a ballet by Antony Tudor.

The married couple, who were both dancers at American Ballet Theater, came to Wash. U. on Sunday, Nov. 2 to set a ballet by esteemed choreographer Antony Tudor, called “Fandango,” for five dance students. Throughout last week, McKerrow and Gardner not only taught students the choreography of the piece but also worked with them so that they could embody the character of the five distinct dancers, portraying women in a Spanish piazza. McKerrow and Gardner both experienced several of Tudor’s ballets as performers at ABT and grew to know him personally.

Once Tudor died, his ballets were protected by the Tudor Trust, which is now controlled by Sally Bliss. After a significant injury, McKerrow began to reevaluate how she could still be involved in the dance world. When she and Gardner were asked to dance “The Leaves Are Fading,” a Tudor work, at The Washington Ballet, McKerrow had the idea instead to set the piece for their company members.

MG_7Whitney Curtis | WUSTL Photo Services

She received permission from Bliss at the time, and gradually since then, she and Gardner have matured their range as repetiteurs (the term given to those who set ballets), traveling to various ballet companies and universities throughout the country and bringing Tudor’s legacy with them.

“[Tudor] had a way of going deeper into the choreography than anyone I ever worked with as a dancer,” Gardner said. “But as a stager, you get the chance to go even deeper because you learn everyone’s parts instead of just your own. Every time we stage a Tudor piece, we see new aspects of the choreography and develop a better understanding of it.”

Because the mentality of students in college dance programs and that of dancers in professional ballet companies are very different, McKerrow and Gardner have experienced many perspectives on Tudor’s work and developed versatile approaches to staging it.

“The students in university dance programs hone in on the work in a different way because their minds are so trained to learn and to study,” McKerrow said. “In a university setting, it is clear that we are there to teach them something, instead of just to provide material for the next show.”

“Students want to know more about Tudor’s life and where he fits into the whole scheme of choreographers,” Gardner said. “They seem to be more curious and want to know the ‘why’ behind the movements.”

MG_4Whitney Curtis | WUSTL Photo Services

McKerrow and Gardner agree that the learning process when they go to a university is reciprocal: it is rewarding for them to experience the different ways in which the students go about the choreography and to have the opportunity to share Tudor’s legacy with non-dancers. At Wash. U., McKerrow and Gardner were able to discuss Tudor’s artistic process and unique sense of music in the classes Movement for Actors, Embodied Communication and “What is Art?”

In the past, students in Washington University Dance Theater have performed other Tudor works, including two different versions of “Dark Elegies” and also “Little Improvisations.”

While those involved in the dance and other classes taught by McKerrow and Gardner last week had the unique opportunity to learn about such a renowned choreographer from dancers who were personally involved with him, other students can get a taste of his style and personality by seeing “Fandango” in the Washington University Dance Theatre performance next month, running from Dec. 5 to 7.

MG_9Whitney Curtis | WUSTL Photo Services