At its premiere in April 1942, Antony Tudor's "Pillar of Fire" astonished its audience and made Nora Kaye and Hugh Laing stars overnight. At a time when ballet in America was dominated by the Franco-Russian sensibility of the Ballets Russes, Tudor's psychological study of what it means to be an outsider in society changed the way ballet was conceived. It was, as Edwin Denby wrote, the first "serious and poetic" work ever produced by Ballet Theatre.
American Ballet Theatre's long-awaited revival of "Pillar," which was presented last night at the Kennedy Center Opera House, was the last ballet supervised by Tudor before his death this spring. Tudor judged few dancers capable of meeting the extraordinary demands of the role of Hagar (which was created by Nora Kaye, who also died this year). His last, personally chosen Hagar, young corps member Kathleen Moore, showed in this performance why Tudor was known as a forger of talent. From her first movement of slowly raising her hand to her temple to the frozen jete's and arrested stabs on pointe, Moore's clarity of gesture intelligently plumbed the nuances of Tudor's conception. While Moore's youth showed when she allowed the tautness of her body, which suggests Hagar's sexual repression and hysteria, to slacken occasionally, it was altogether a singularly impressive appearance.
In other leading roles, Cynthia Anderson and Amanda McKerrow (both formerly of the Washington Ballet) as Hagar's sisters, Ethan Brown as the Young Man from the House Opposite and Michael Owen as the Friend, were more respectful than impassioned.
Another seminal ballet, Frederick Ashton's "Les Rendezvous," received a performance distinguished by the quicksilver radiance and amplitude of Deirdre Carberry and the calm sureness of principals Johan Renvall and Marianna Tcherkassky. The evening concluded with a repeat of Harald Lander's perennial crowd pleaser, "Etudes," featuring Wes Chapman and Robert Hill as the male leads.