Anthony Tudor’s 1942 Pillar of Fire with Sallie Wilson (1973 Performance)| American Ballet Theater….
Pillar of Fire
American Ballet Theater
(From a Performance in 1973)
Hagar: Sallie Wilson
Older Sister: Bonnie Mathis
Younger Sister: Ellen Everett
Suitor: Gayle Young
Man Across the Way: Marcos Parades
The music for Antony Tudor’s Pillar of Fire, Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night). was inspired by a nineteenth century two-character German poem Weib und die Welt (Woman and the World). Set in a time when a child born out of wedlock was not condoned in polite society, the poem deals with a pregnant woman who is afraid that her fiancé will not marry her. He, being truly in love with her, accepts the fact and tells her that the child will be considered his.
Pillar of Fire is basically the same type of story set in balletic terms and with additional characters. Three sisters, the Eldest Sister, a prim, straight-laced spinster; Hagar, the middle sister, who desperately wants love, marriage and a family; and the Youngest Sister, a spoiled flirt, able to collect men as a bee collects honey, live in a small town at the turn of the century. A Friend, with whom Hagar is in love comes to visit. While he has come to see Hagar, he is a polite, conventional man of his time who is not yet aware of how much Hagar loves him. The other sisters, somewhat jealous of Hagar decide they must have what should be hers and the Youngest Sister flirts outrageously with the Friend. They go inside and Hagar, left outside, is ignored. Frustrated, angry, and seeing her last chance of a happy married life gone forever, Hagar observes the House Opposite, where, it is said, lovers go to spend time together, and, in her imagination, sees into the house and observes what is said to go on there. A man comes out of the house and sees her watching. Under other circumstances, etiquette would require that Hagar, without being rude, not acknowledge him, but since Hagar feels that she has lost her only chance for a traditional love life, she is attracted to him. Her sisters come out of their house and the Friend and her Youngest Sister go off together. Hagar is frantic, and when the Man From the House Opposite returns she welcomes him and they dance together, at the end of which they go into the House Opposite.
Having defied the conventions of the times, Hagar is ostracized by the neighbors and she and her sisters are now outcasts. The Friend comes to visit offering sympathy and help, but the embarrassed Hagar cannot accept it. She wishes help from the townspeople, and, finally, from her seducer, but he observes her as if she had never existed. The Friend returns, and, seeing Hagar’s despair, firmly, but tenderly tells her, in a final pas de deux, that he loves her and will stand by her and give her the happiness she so desperately wants.
Pillar of Fire received its world premiere by American Ballet Theatre on April 8, 1942 at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, danced byNora Kaye (Hagar), Lucia Chase (Eldest Sister), Annabelle Lyon (YoungestSister), Antony Tudor (The Friend), and Hugh Laing (The Young Man From the House Opposite)