by Grant Strate

I set out for New York in the fall of 1962 in a state of nerves. I knew very few people there and had been so busy with National Ballet business that I had done little advance planning. I did know Antony Tudor professionally from his several visits to Toronto but could hardly regard him as a friend, as someone willing to introduce me to the bustling New York dance scene. Even so, I decided to try to meet him and on my first day in the big city arranged to watch his daily ballet class at the Metropolitan Opera. Tudor was then director of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and also taught regular classes in the dance division of the Juilliard School. Tudor welcomed me cordially enough and asked for a telephone number where I could be reached. The following morning the phone rang at 8 a.m. To my great surprise it was Tudor. He wanted to meet in an hour's time at a coffee shop a few blocks from where I was staying. In true Tudor fashion, this was more of a command than a request.

I can now say without exaggeration that that early coffee session with Antony Tudor changed the course of my life. It set many things in motion that contributed positively to my time in New York and to later phases of my career in dance. Tudor stunned me by asking if I would take over his advanced ballet classes at Juilliard for three months while he traipsed off to Stockholm to fulfill his obligations as artistic director of the Royal Swedish Ballet, another one of his many positions. I protested that I was not an experienced teacher and could in no way fill his shoes. He said, "Nonsense! You know all that ballet stuff well enough to teach it. You'll be fine." Perhaps as a hook to get me to accept the teaching job, he also asked me to choreograph a work for the Juilliard dance division's spring performance. He himself would be contributing two new works. This all fell from the sky in one short hour of conversation. I knew there was no way I could refuse either offer, even though I was fully aware that they could be disastrous career moves. A failure in New York would ricochet around the world.

Stratememoir2It meant having to rejig my travel plans, spending longer in New York and less time in Europe. As it happened, New York provided the most stimulating challenges of my entire study trip and I will be forever grateful to Tudor for disrupting my well-laid plans. It also meant that Earl was occasionally able to come and visit me, thus shortening our time apart. Only later would I discover that there had been nothing altruistic in Tudor's offer. In the meantime, I was overwhelmed by what I saw as his generosity of spirit. I had much to learn!

I took Tudor's classes at Juilliard for almost a month before he left for Stockholm in order to get an idea of what I might be up against after his departure. As a teacher, he was remarkably quick at inventing combinations, many of which seemed to be designed to trap and frustrate the dancers. He pretty much left me alone, except for the times he would peer at me and ask facetiously if that was the way we did things in Canada. Tudor delighted in his students' failures. It gave him an opportunity to exercise his caustic wit at their expense. He had the eyes of a hawk and the instincts of a ferret. It took some time to realise that Tudor was also a humourist, sometimes of such sophistication that his students often missed the point and only felt the nasty barb. Above all, he was the most profoundly musical teacher I ever encountered. Tudor's musicality was not the sing-along-with-the-tune variety but a reflection of his own deep musical understanding, which allowed him to counter the accompaniment in complementary ways. In doing so he was not seeking comfort or beauty of movement. His goal was to keep his students fully alert, both intuitively and intellectually. This worked well for the more gifted students but often left the others confused and adrift.

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