Ballet West

May 26, 2006

Ballet West in Antony Tudor’s
Echoing of Trumpets
Photo by Ryan Galbraith, courtesy Ballet West

Ballet West
Capitol Theatre, Salt Lake City, UT

May 26–June 3, 2006

Reviewed by Clive Barnes


There are some ballets that even on a first seeing seem to burn their way into your soul. For me, one such ballet is Antony Tudor’s Echoing of Trumpets, and when I heard that Donald Mahler was reviving it (perhaps reconstructing is as good a term) for Jonas Kåge’s excellent Ballet West I eagerly accepted an invitation to see it. Tudor created it for the Royal Swedish Ballet in 1963 and I first saw it (with its remarkable original cast, led by Gerd Andersson, intact), when the Swedes brought it to Paris less than a year later. Each time I see it, it tears my heart out; it’s that kind of peculiarly emotional ballet.

It first came to the United States in 1966, and ABT has revived it a couple of times, although not for some years, making Mahler’s revival all the more significant in keeping this 20th-century masterpiece—a work crucial to the Tudor catalogue—alive and kicking.

Using Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu’s Sixth Symphony (Fantaisies Symphoniques), Tudor’s ballet, set in a war-torn landscape and describing peasant women oppressed by an occupying army, is often said to have been inspired, like Martinu’s symphony, by the destruction of the Czech town of Lidice during World War II. At times Tudor accepted this; at others he claimed he didn’t even know that Martinu had dedicated it to Lidice until after he had started the ballet (which, he said, was about domination). Could be—but it will always look like World War II and Lidice to most audiences.

Writing in The New York Times after its Paris premiere in 1964, I called Echoes “a profoundly anti-romantic ballet about war—a ballet that is real, terrible, and yet still beautiful in the scarlet way of tragedy.” In Salt Lake City it still had that impact, with its mixture of modern expressionism, classic ballet and Central European folk dance for the male invaders. The structure and characterizations are as extraordinary as those in Pillar of Fire, and while it is essentially an ensemble piece for 15 dancers, each dancer has a clearly defined role. Mahler has done a great job in not merely reproducing but defining the choreography—the ballet’s impact remained as powerful as it was with the Royal Swedes or ABT.

Strangely enough, two or three days before I arrived in Utah, Kåge had been fired (or his contract wasn’t renewed) by the ballet’s board (see “Dance Matters,” Sept. 2006). However, the company was in great shape, as admirably indicated by this mixed bill, which included Hans van Manen’s lively, charming In and Out (1991), a faultless barometer of a company’s dance health and here a strong account led by a very serviceable couple, Michiyo Hayashi and Seth Olson, and a remarkably vibrant ensemble. Also it is worth a mention that the company has a first-rate orchestra and, in Terence Kern, one of the best ballet musical directors in the country. I hope the company’s board, with its doubtless vast practical experience of dance, can maintain these standards for the good citizens of Salt Lake City, and indeed Utah and beyond. See