Passing the Torch

By Leda Meredith

Photo by Eduardo Patino of Leda Meredith as Francis Patrelle’s Lady Macbeth

I am standing in front of a full-wall tapestry in a museum. It is magnificent. Reading the museum’s pamphlet, I learn that it took three generations of craftsmen to complete. Did they stick to the original design, or add their own touches? Did the grandchildren’s generation have a hard time finding the exact same blue to match the sky? Did the symbolism of the tapestry have the identical meaning for them that it had when their grandparents’ generation was doing the stitchery?

The experience of passing on a role to someone else can be a delight or a strain depending on the people involved. Some choreographers will alter the choreography of an old work to suit a new cast, others insist that it be taught verbatim. Some dancers want to learn from a previous generation’s experience, others prefer not to be influenced by anything other than their own viewpoint.

This month I am restaging Francis Patrelle’s Macbeth. He choreographed it in 1995, and I was his original Lady Macbeth. Even while the role was being created on me, I was acutely aware of the centuries of actresses (and originally, actors) who portrayed Lady Macbeth. Turning to the play itself, I reached even further back through the generations, and delved into my personal understanding of what Shakespeare wrote.

But that was only my understanding, at that particular time. I would dance the role quite differently if I did it today.

Teaching a role that was created for me is delicate. I must communicate much more than the sequence of steps. I must also convey details of the choreographer’s intent that a second generation of dancers might not be able to surmise. If a dramatic choice I made was used and elaborated on by the choreographer, then that choice is now part of the choreography and needs to be taught. On the other hand, some artistic choices may have worked for me but be inappropriate for the dancer learning the role. My job is to provide enough information for the current dancer to develop her own interpretation of the role, keeping it in line with the choreographer’s original intent.

The magic starts after the steps have been taught, the information communicated, the role discussed: after the bridge between one generation and the next has been built.

It is my own belief that certain roles have a life of their own, and that the role itself steps in at a certain point to inform the player’s actions. So I watch as the current Lady Macbeth, Joni Petre-Scholz, begins to get a certain glint in her eye, a certain timing to her gestures. It is not my version I am seeing, nor should it be, but I recognize that Lady. I have looked out through her eyes, I have thought her thoughts. Shakespeare’s character has taken over the teaching, and I can turn to working with the other dancers knowing that Joni is well on her way to her own Lady Macbeth.

As a dancer, I’ve stepped into many previous generations’ shoes, found my own way across the bridge between learning and making it my own. As a teacher and director, I’ve tasted the sharp joys of letting go of my memories of how it felt to perform a role, and then of being delighted by a new dancer’s process of discovery. I have learned to be grateful to dancers like Joni Petre-Scholz of Dances Patrelle and Anne Kochanski of Jennifer Muller/The Works, who respect the past enough to learn well, but are fiery enough to find their own way. I find myself wondering how my mother, Penelope Lagios Coberly, herself a former soloist with San Francisco Ballet, felt when she sat in the audience watching me perform.

If you look closely at some of the famous tapestries, you can spot small patches that appear to be unfinished. A corner of a cloud left unstitched, a part of a border missing, a petal sketched but not sewn, as if waiting for the next generation to begin where the last had left off.

Leda can also be found at ledameredith.net

About the writer:
Leda Meredith’s biography deserves to be reprinted in full. the-vu proudly welcomes her exceptional talent to our pages.
As a performer, Leda Meredith’s career spans contemporary dance, classical ballet, and theatre. Her performances have taken her to twenty-five countries on four continents. She has been a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre II, Edward Villella, Manhattan Ballet, Dances Patrelle, and others. She was a company member of Jennifer Muller/The Works for over seven years, and originated numerous roles in the repertory. She returned as Artistic Associate Director for the company’s 25th anniversary season in 1999-2000.
Her piece Lullabye Lane, premiered as part of Jennifer Muller/The Works’ 25th anniversary season at the Joyce Theater in New York. With original music by composer James Sasser, Lullabye Lane marked their seventh collaboration. They recently completed the full evening work Small Talk At The Volcano. In Spring 2000 she co-created a cabaret style piece entitled All About Angels and Eggs, with Michael Jahoda and Maria Naidu at Dansatelier in Rotterdam. Other choreographic credits include works for Malaparte Theatre Company, the Gene Frankel Theatre in New York, Dixon Place, Peridance International, the Hatch Saturday Series, First Fridays at Five, and the Arts on the Hudson Festival.
She is a returning guest instructor for the Henny Jurriens Stichting in Amsterdam, Western Washington University; and Dance Loft in Rorschach, Switzerland. Leda is currently on faculty with Ballet Academy East. She has taught as part of the 1996 Iles de Danse in France, and for the Artist’s Trusts International Course in England. In December, 1999 she was guest instructor for Carolyn Carlson’s Atelier de Paris. Other dance programs she has taught for include the California State University at Los Angeles, and Brigham Young University in Hawaii.

1 Comment

  1. I am extremely anxious to know anything about Penelope Lagios. Penny and I were very close when she danced with Ballet de Cuba. Our lives took different paths but I have never forgotten her. I just reread some of her letters which I have saved these many years. To do so was a painful, yet joyful experience. I am nearing the end of my road. If you have any information about Penny, please let me know. Thank you.

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