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0000017c-60f7-de77-ad7e-f3f739cf0000Arts & More airs Fridays at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.Theme music: "Like A Beginner Again" by Dan Barry of Seas of Jupiter

WMU Only University Allowed To Perform Complex Ballet

the Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations

Western Michigan University will make ballet history. It will be the first college to dance a ballet so complex - that it’s only been performed by professional dancers. The ballet Lilac Garden was created by English choreographer Anthony Tudor in 1936. 

The WMU Department of Dance won’t perform Lilac Garden until their Great Works Gala in February. However, you can attend an open rehearsal for the ballet Friday, September 30th at 5 p.m. in WMU’s Dalton Center, Studio B on the 3rd floor.

Lilac Garden is about a woman named Caroline who is engaged to a man she doesn’t love. The whole ballet takes place at an Edwardian garden party where Caroline is saying goodbye to her friends and her lover. That might sound like a typical drama today, but WMU Dance Professor Sharon Garber says in the 1940s it was revolutionary.

“The great works were about princesses and swans and fairy tales - and this was about people. And not just happy people, but people who were in situations that were heartbreaking or devastating and how that affected their movement,” she says. 

WMU Dance Professor David Curwen says the movements in Lilac Garden were pretty ground-breaking too. He says Tudor wasn’t afraid to be expressive with the upper body and let the dancers sink into the ground.

“It’s not up here and keeping gravity and the floor away," he says. "It’s really into the floor, or into the grass as they’re performing the garden.”

Amanda McKerrow and her husband John Gardner are former dancers with the American Ballet Theatre. It’s considered to be the first national ballet company in the United States - in fact, Lilac Garden was one of the company’s first ballets.

Now McKerrow and Gardener work for the Anthony Tudor Trust. It’s their job to make sure Tudor’s work is performed the way it was meant to be performed. McKerrow says Lilac Garden is only about 17 minutes long, but it’s extremely complicated.

“Normally universities are not allowed to do this piece because it is so difficult. Professional ballet dancers find this one challenging and you can spend a career trying to get your Caroline to the place she needs to get. But this university has the Tudor experience,” she says.

Curwen says Western has done three other Tudor works, but has always dreamed of performing Lilac Garden.

Gardener and McKerrow started working with Tudor in their teens and studied with him up until he died in 1987. Gardener says Tudor made him think about every little detail of his dance. He remembers his first rehearsal for Lilac Garden:

“He came over to me and he said, ‘So young man, where are you from?’ I said, ‘Lafayette, Louisiana.’ He said, ‘No, your character - where is your character from?’ And I came up with something, I forget what I said - like Baltimore or something,” Gardener says.

“So I had to answer all of these questions about my character right then and there.”

Gardener says each dancer develops their character in their own way. So this staging’s Caroline will likely be unlike any other Caroline before.

McKerrow says Tudor’s moves in Lilac Garden are intentionally awkward: 

“You’re trained as a ballet dancer to make it look easy, to hide effort. You don’t want the audience to see how difficult something is, you want to master the technique so that it looks easy and he was not like that. He wanted to see the effort. I learned that from him in his very first rehearsal - the effort was where the emotion was.”

Western student Cecily Shives will dance the role of Caroline. She says that awkwardness in the movement is much like how Caroline feels as she faces what could be an unhappy marriage.

“It’s not going to feel good, but Caroline doesn’t feel good either. That’s the way the ballet is built and the steps are built in a way to make the dancer feel like the character," says Shives.

"And I think that’s really important when it comes to the emotional side of it because there’s nothing fake - you feel all of these things.”

Western will do the finished performance of Lilac Garden during its Great Works Gala. The gala takes places February 2nd through February 5 of 2017 at WMU's Shaw Theatre in the Gilmore Theatre Complex.

Rebecca Thiele was an environmental reporter and producer of Arts & More for WMUK. She worked at the station from 2011 to 2019.
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