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scherzo

'Agon' and 'Symphony in Three Movements'

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In February I will be going to see Birmingham Royal Ballet in a triple bill of 'Agon', 'Stravinsky Violin Concerto' and 'Symphony in Three Movements'. Yay! :lol: All-Balanchine, all-Stravinsky.

Does anyone have any tips on what to look out for, highlights, how they should be performed etc? Or, just for discussion's sake, does anyone have any views on or favourite moments in these three ballets?

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Wow! Where to start?

I guess the best place to start is "Welcome to Ballet Talk" and to say it's a great program. I could write a book on each of the ballets (on Agon, I practically have. . .) Let me try some quick comments.

Agon, like all of the ballets and the music, should have a real bounce to it. The dancers should have weight, but always look ready to spring upwards. The most interesting man I've ever seen it was the originator of the pas de deux, Arthur Mitchell on tape and coaching the role and he had an almost softshoe quality from his training that I've not seen in anyone else. People feel differently, but I also agree with Mitchell who said that Balanchine told him that the woman should not do anything in the pas de deux, and let the man do all the work of manipulating her into position. Silly observation - for me, the moment right after the pas de deux where the other dancers reenter reminds me of West Side Story!

For Violin Concerto, watch for the last movement. After all the modernity, it should feel like Russian folk dance. It's a shame they aren't doing a little Balanchine/Stravinsky piece d'occasion with it called "Scherzo a la Russe". It's a Russian folk dance that tells you where the movement comes from.

I saw Symphony in Three Movements last night. Balanchine and Stravinsky are doing a bit different things here. The middle movement I believe (off the top of my head, I may be wrong) was from sketches of a film score - Balanchine went for Orientalism. It's quite a massive work, almost like a Hollywood production number (Balanchine Girls!) gone modernist.

Does that help? Enjoy!

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One of the most perfect descriptions of Symphony in Three Movements was a reference to the corps as "space-age Wilis." They do evoke that same forbidding mood, but with a late 20th-Century energy.

I hope you'll report back with your reactions. In the meanwhile, please tell us a bit about yourself on our Welcome Page.

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I always liked Arlene Croce's description of Symphony in Three Movements, referring to it as a 747 (the most modern of planes at the time). And when I think of 747s, I think of the modern terminal at JFK airport here in NY - just ultra modern and clean (but sexy) and technological. I've played the music in an orchestra and I always sat at the edge of my seat because the rhythms are so crazy (although perfect) and the music just courses through you with this awesome energy. The same thing happens when you watch the ballet.

In addition to what Leigh wrote, I would say in Violin Concerto the two pas de deux should have 2 distinct qualities. The first is a bit of a contest or there should be a certain tension that comes with having two people at equal strength. In the second, I always felt that the woman should be a little more pliant, with the man guiding a bit more.

Again, as Leigh wrote, there's a Russian folk feeling. All through the work there's bits of "personality." The opening is very playful. But throughout, if they "act" it's ruined. Also in the last movement, watch for the dancers moving across the stage -- some of the corps actually have to dance off stage and then move en mass back on. Hard to describe but you'll know the part when it comes.

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What a great program! One thing to tuck into the back of your mind for Agon: in 1953 or so, Lincoln Kerstein sent Stravinsky an early 17th century French dance manual (Apologie de la danse by François de Lauze) which he and Balanchine subsequently used as a quarry for Agon. Look past the black leotards (and listen past the music's 20th century compositional techniques) for echoes of Renaissance court dances and courtly manners – even in the famous pretzel Pas de Deux. The title means “contest,” but it’s clearly a very ritualized one – more like a tournament than a battle. In the first and second Pas de Trois and in the Pas de Deux, the dancers burst on to the stage to a fanfare as if we were the spectators in a tournament ring. One thing I particularly like is the way in which each of the dances in the second Pas de Trois ends with a frozen pose that looks just like something from a tapestry.

Cocktail trivia: Agon was the first of Stravinsky's compositions to use a full 12-tone row -- it's in the Coda of the first Pas de Trois.

Enjoy!

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It's wonderful to read people's responses to the highlights of a masterpiece. I learn so much to see people's reactions boiled down to the absolute essence.

Scherzo - you've got to promise to come back after the show and report. With three masterpieces like that, I just wrote my friends in Brum and told them they *had* to go.

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Wow, thankyou everyone for your responses! I have to say, when I heard about the programme, after my initial 'yay!!!!' response I thought that an all black-and-white, Balanchine-Stravinsky programme might be a bit......same-y (not in a bad way). But reading this thread, the ballets all sound really different, it'll be interesting to see the different things that came out of the Balanchine-Stravinsky partnership.

Kathleen, I did know about the 'contest' meaning but not about the piece's Renaissance influences. That's very interesting, and quite unexpected: definitely something to look out for.

In addition to what Leigh wrote, I would say in Violin Concerto the two pas de deux should have 2 distinct qualities. The first is a bit of a contest or there should be a certain tension that comes with having two people at equal strength. In the second, I always felt that the woman should be a little more pliant, with the man guiding a bit more.

(Sorry Dale, I don't know how to label your quote.) I have seen the Nonesuch recording of SVC, and I did 'get' these two qualities, partly because of Von Aroldingen's power and the fact that Martins towered over Mazzo. Is it usual to cast short/tall in the second pd2?

I am very intrigued now about Symphony in Three Movements: Balanchine Girls as space-age Wilis could only be a good thing! So is it another big corps number, with lead couples?

Leigh, I promise I will write a review (however ignorant). I understand that you are not exactly enamored of British Balanchine style. :wink: Have you ever seen the BRB in Balanchine?

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I don't know if there are ways to borrow these from a library in the UK, but there are two commercial recordings that might interest you: in the "Dance in America" series, there's a studio production of Stravinsky Violin Concerto with Karin von Aroldingen and Bart Cook as the "Aria 1" couple, and Kay Mazzo and Peter Martins as the "Aria 2 couple." All but Cook were in the original cast. (I think Cook's is the strongest performance of all.) This ballet, with Symphony in Three Movements, is considered one of three masterworks from the 1972 Stravinsky Festival. (The other is Duo Concertante.)

In Volume 2 of "Balanchine Celebration" videos from the Nonesuch Balanchine Library series, from a 1993 live performance to honor the 10-year anniversary of Balanchine's death, there's a perfomance of Agon. Darcey Bussell danced the central role with Lindsay Fischer. Volume 1 has a performance of Scherzo a la Russe, too.

The opening tableau of Symphony in Three Movements is spectacular.

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Thankyou, Helene. I will see if I can find a copy of the Balanchine Celebration(s).

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I have seen BRB in Balanchine, scherzo, but in a small cast work, Duo Concertant. I saw two pairs; I recall more vividly Robert Parker and Elisha Willis, who danced quite idiomatically. I wouldn't extrapolate company style from such a small scale work but since BRB's style in Ashton is different than the RB's (I like BRB's "Scenes de Ballet" better, in fact) I could see them having their own style in Balanchine as well.

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I am very intrigued now about Symphony in Three Movements: Balanchine Girls as space-age Wilis could only be a good thing! So is it another big corps number, with lead couples?

That is a very good capsule description -- one of the (many!) things I love about this ballet is the way it opens up the space (literally -- the side curtains are drawn way back so that it's a much wider stage than usual) and the interlocking images in the corps. In some ways it reminds me of a ballet mechanique, combined with a Busby Berkely number (the long diagonal lines or the corps in sequential action are thrilling).

The 'second' couple has a great entrance (zooming out of the wings and into the air) -- Carrie Imler and Jonathon Poretta have done it here at Pacific Northwest Ballet and they just knocked us all out.

Have a great time in the theater, and come back to tell all!

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Have a great time in the theater, and come back to tell all!

Don't worry, I will! It's quite a while off, I think I'm going on the 21st Feb. I thought I'd start researching early: everyone on this board is so knowledgeable!

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Coincidentally, NYCB is performing a pretty similar program now: Agon, Monumentum/Movements, DuoConcertant, Symphony in Three Movements.

I have to say, when I heard about the programme, after my initial 'yay!!!!' response I thought that an all black-and-white, Balanchine-Stravinsky programme might be a bit......same-y (not in a bad way).
That is always a danger, and if the ballets have been mounted with care to detail, and the dancers have absorbed each work's special individuality, sameness should not be a problem. On the other hand, even City Ballet, during those best-forgotten years around the turn of the millennium, was dancing too many works with too much sameness.

Meanwhile, NYCB's website gives cursory notes on the ballets: Agon, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, and Symphony in Three Movements.

I'm sorry it's so far off. I'm really eager to read your review. :huepfen024:

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Well, here it is then....

(I've kept in this thread as the review sort of relates to the thread, but feel free to move it)

STRAVINSKY STAGED; 20th Feb 07; The Lowry; Birmingham Royal Ballet

Agon

Absolutely LOVED it, especially the single finger click. Certainly a contest-like atmosphere, with much of the first part reminding me of limbering up, and also with everyone performing identical moves. Courtly manners evident in the way each dancer acknowledged one another as they entered. The little interludes were just perfect! I loved Agon for its wit and style.

First pd3: Robert Parker, Laetitia Lo Sardo, Arancha Baselga

Parker had loads of energy and was probably the most Balanchinean dancer in the evening. The two women were very crisp, Lo Sardo with great sassy attitude (whether appropriate or not).

Second pd3: Virginia de Gersigny, Jamie Bond, Joseph Caley

Overall, this made less of an impression. There is a fine line to tread between simply being blank-faced and being blank-faced and knowing why. I think that these three fell into the former category. Slightly fumbly with what must be a really difficult balance at the beginning. In general this trio is made up of less experienced dancers, so hey.

Pd2: Jenna Roberts, Tyrone Singleton

While being passive and manipulated, Roberts' expression and poise (poise! Something kind of lacking in the rest of the dancers - I think the ballet needs it. What do you think?) suggested that she knew what she was doing, she was simply allowing Singleton to use her body to do what he wished. She had the power on that stage. No one mentioned whether this pd2 should have an erotic quality: it did (without being crude).

Finale

It was like a tournament, with each couple with some sort of 'attendant' corps member. Love the final image identical to the opening.

Stravinsky Violin Concerto

This is the one ballet that I have seen before, on the Nonesuch recording, no less!

Aria I: Elisha Willis, Robert Parker

Aria II: Nao Sakuma, Iain Mackay

Willis had lovely line and quality of movement. However, is that what this role needs? Aroldingen had great Presence, and I think that is what Willis didn't quite have. She has the most fantastic first entrance, galloping with the trumpets, but it was more of a skip than a full-on charge. She seemed overly classical in the use of her arms and I suppose generally wasn't relaxed and natural enough. Lovely to watch, though.

Parker had the same energy as in Agon which I think was a bit much at times. There is a repeated jump in the first movement which is like a bit like a fall travelling upstage (do you know what I mean?). Bart Cook on Nonesuch reminded me of a Broadway musical (don't laugh). Parker made it look like a karate chop. I think that this role needs a lighter touch, an even more tongue-in-cheek feel. But his abandon was exciting.

Sakuma I think was the best overall. Vibrant and with 'attack'. In the second Aria, she did not seem as submissive as Mazzo, but it worked anyway. I would have put her in the first Aria, because she had sharper and more powerful movement than Willis.

Mackay (BRB's resident super-hunk) didn't make that much of an impression. In the second (for me, rather uneasy) Aria, at times he looked like a violent threat to Sakuma, advancing on her, at others more tender. This gave the Aria a precarious feeling, like Sakuma dealing with her drunkard boyfriend (hmm, great analogy, genius. It's late). I'm not sure that I liked it. Strong dancing, of course.

Dale mentioned acting in the last movement. You know that corny laugh they do in operas? I thought the leads were going to break into that, they had such happy-happy expressions. But I loved it because, like Pujol in Jewels, it was really genuine. Willis gained speed, Mackay gained a sense of fun. I feared that they wouldn't reach the final pose, but they did and it was all terribly exhilarating. Hurrah!

Symphony in Three Movements

(In order of appearance (!))

Lei Zhao, Dominic Antonucci

Nao Sakuma, Robert Tewsley

Ambra Vallo, Chi Cao

First movement

The diagonal line!!!! Sorry, but I nearly yelped with joy. When the curtain went up, there was as close to a gasp as one will get from a British audience. Enough said.

Flying entrances all round, very exciting. The third couple to enter have a different character to the other two, and I think it's a pity that this wasn't developed since they disappear until the third movement. As, of course, does everyone except the second couple to enter. Overall, the amount of movement onstage is amazing, everyone is doing something, like the corps doing windscreen wiper movements with their arms. Energy!

Random thought for the day: Leotards can be so-o-o unflattering.

Second movement

The slightly ironic music was interesting, it gave the pd2 a rather cheeky feel. There was humour here, but this pd2 did not to me have the same amount of character as the others in the evening, whether because of the dancing or the choreography.

Third movement

Movement being the operative word here. Constant energy, it did give me a rush. But so much movement, it felt like too much to be honest. I think it looked a bit cramped (when the corps lines each side of the stage facing the front, one poor girl ended up in the wings, with her nose pressed right up against the cloth) and as a result, I just got the impression of general movement. Overall, Symphony in Three Movements was the work that failed to gel for me.

So, there you are. Overall it was a fan-tastic evening. I suddenly realised before the show that I had stupidly only booked for one performance, and so I asked my parents to book for tomorrow evening and I'm going again!

(Very convoluted) Question: I was in the centre of the front row of the circle today (first level above ground level) so I was close to the stage which was practically at eye-level. There were many, many empty seats (:wallbash::blush: come on people, try something new!!!). Tomorrow my seat is at the back of the upper circle (level above). There will very probably be many, many empty seats at circle level. Is this programme one that would benefit being seen from a higher angle, or shall I try to sneak downstairs into the circle?

Phew, what an essay! I'll try to be briefer tomorrow....

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Wow, scherzo! Thanks!

First, I think most Balanchine ballets are best seen from above, so I do not recommend moving down. In fact, if you'd asked me ahead of time, I might have recommended moving up!

We have an interesting old thread, "What's Going on in Agon," which might bring some perspective. Placing it in the context of Balanchine's life, which this thread does, adds dimension to it.

Also, you might want to check out some of the recent reviews of Miami City Ballet, which has just danced Symphony in Three Movements.

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Bravo!

I'm so glad you enjoyed yourself and feel free to be long-winded any time.

Some thoughts on your observations.

When I've seen Parker in Balanchine, he's always looked quite at home in it.

Over the years I've come to the conclusion that Balanchine done "wrong" is like Justice Potter Stewart's attempt to describe pornography in a Supreme Court ruling: "I know it when I see it." Projection or attitude can be fine in Agon, vamping the audience isn't.

The balances in the second pas de trois can be like those in the Rose Adagio - blow them and you've blown the whole thing, so they're nervewracking. And I know Joseph Caley is maybe two years out from graduation at RBS. You get major roles in BRB quite quickly.

Erotic but not crude sounds about right for the pas de deux. There's definitely power exchange there and it would be naive not to find it erotic. But telegraph the effects and the pas de deux loses its mystery.

In the second aria in VC, Martins was almost frightening with Mazzo - he was just so much bigger and that last movement when he bends her neck back has you nervous for a split second.

I remember when Dominic Antonucci was David Howard's protege in NYC (and Robert Parker's wife, Rachel Peppin, was Robert Barnett's in Atlanta). Tempus fugit.

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Carbro, thankyou so much for that thread: I somehow managed not to find it while doing my research. :clapping: Also for your advice about seats. Though I am glad that I saw everything 'up close' at least once: I think it was helpful to see in detail the dynamics of each section for a first-timer like me. (It's so great having such a large pool of knowledge to draw upon here! I would just have moved right on downstairs otherwise. Sorry, raving over. :blush: )

Leigh, on the whole there wasn't much wrongness (ummm..... though..... was Sakuma wearing glitter on her eyelashes???). I got the feeling that in the Agon pd2, Roberts was kind of glaring out at the audience with a bit of an 'ice-queen' expression rather than simply dancing. But she did capture what's referred to in the Agon thread as Adams' 'patrician manner' (your words, in fact!).

It's true that watching last night was very instinctive. After reading about Balanchine on this board for years, to finally see these great works for myself was rather daunting because I was afraid that I wasn't going to 'get it'. But yes, I think (hope, after having posted my thoughts) that I could see what was right and wrong.

What was also interesting was to see various choreographic motifs being used in different ways in the three ballets, like that supported walking the women do, reclined right back. It's great to see a different vocabulary being consistently used (another example: promenades linked at the elbow).

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Round 2...

STRAVINSKY! A CELEBRATION; 21st Feb 07; The Lowry; Birmingham Royal Ballet

Agon

1st pd3: Alexander Campbell, Momoko Hirata, Laura Purkiss

This had a rather different, more lyrical character than the first cast, but with no less wit (to match the coda's music: fantastic!).

2nd pd3: Lei Zhao, Rory Mackay, Steven Monteith

I preferred this one to yesterday's: the two men had a more serious, focused manner and there was a sense of tension which I enjoyed. Zhao danced the Sarabande with a sultry feeling that I found very effective.

Pd2: Elisha Willis, Iain Mackay

Both were better cast in this than Violin Concerto. Willis' line was absolutely beautiful and her control was amazing (although there was a very hairy moment during the slow penchee supported by the slowly reclining man: I thought she was going to keel right over). Rather than a feeling of the woman's power, there was a more uneasy uncertainty in Willis: she had less 'patrician manner' and much more vulnerability. Mackay appeared more in control and more of a calming influence on Willis. Over the whole pd2 there hung a sense of impending doom, something huge but which neither was willing to face. Pretty powerful stuff!

Stravinsky Violin Concerto

Aria I: Victoria Marr, Dominic Antonucci

Aria II: Ambra Vallo, Chi Cao

Marr was more appropriate than Willis: she was livelier and appeared more of a match for her partner. She had trouble with the horrible part in the Aria where she has to bend right over backwards into a bridge, which made me realise just how extreme that part is! (Also, doesn't Aroldingen manage to stand back up without support? Wow!) Great energy and very engaging. Her galloping entrance was fantastic!

Antonucci was OK, but he has an awkward carriage to his head, it always looks a bit too forward. He also appeared cautious compared with Robert Parker. Having said that, he caught the spirit of each movement very well.

Vallo was in general quicker than Sakuma yesterday, and also 'showed' certain poses which was nice. She looked a bit self-conscious in the finale, which is so bouncy and childlike (the corps link arms and windmill them, like a children's game).

Cao was...interesting. To be perfectly honest, I didn't like him in this at all. His general demeanour in the 1st movement was WAY too intense: Mackay was serious, but Cao was positively LIVID, face like thunder all the way through.

Symphony in Three Movements

Lei Zhao, Dominic Antonucci

Nao Sakuma, Jamie Bond

Laetitia Lo Sardo (I don't think it was actually, but am not sure), Joseph Caley

Carbro, I took your advice and stayed in the Upper Circle, and I thank you: this ballet looked SO much better from up high. What looked confused yesterday made a lot of sense and the formations were clearer.

The reviews that you pointed me to were also interesting (just read them), and it's good to see that other people make similar associations with war etc. Yesterday the ballet did strike me as being very punchy and martial in its movement. Today I picked up on the marching en pointe.

I'd be interested to know what people think is 'going on' in the pd2 (I will do some searching as well). It's been described as the 'helicopter' and 'Oriental' pd2. I saw it as yet another variety of relationship, tentative and delicate. The raised hand gesture (like 'hands up!') was reminiscent of Oriental dance, but also a gesture of submission. I'd like to see it again, with different dancers, just to get another perspective on it.

So, I think that's all the Balanchine I'll be getting for a while. :( But this was such a great programme, and it was really exciting to see two completely new works to me. So, :P:yahoo::yahoo:

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Scherzo, I saw the same cast in Birmingham as you saw on 20th February and would say that your comments were spot on! The only difference was that on that occasion the balances in the Agon pas de trois were rock steady. But even so, I thought the cast took it too seriously. I used to love Virginia Johnson of Dance Theatre of Harlem in that; she had a very saucy little twitch of the hips in her solo variation which seemed to me to add a little spice and colour to the event.

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I used to love Virginia Johnson of Dance Theatre of Harlem in that . . .
Oh! Me, too! Thanks for pulling up that memory, Alymer.

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Scherzo, I saw the same cast in Birmingham as you saw on 20th February and would say that your comments were spot on! The only difference was that on that occasion the balances in the Agon pas de trois were rock steady. But even so, I thought the cast took it too seriously. I used to love Virginia Johnson of Dance Theatre of Harlem in that; she had a very saucy little twitch of the hips in her solo variation which seemed to me to add a little spice and colour to the event.

Yeah, sorry, I'm always WAY over-critical about balances. :P I agree that on the 20th the character of the Bransle Gay (I think that's the one you mean?) was a bit lacking. But I thought that in the first pd3 there was a wry quality that suited it very well, especially all the arm-fiddling at the end of the two ladies' variation.

Out of interest, where were you sitting in the (wonderfully purple!) theatre?

A question: one of Balanchine's most-quoted sayings is (something like) 'don't think dear, just do'. How often is this applicable to these ballets? The thing is, with so many potentially symbolic movements (like helicopters in Symphony in Three Movements) and possible scenarios (like the pd2 in Agon), to what extent should a dancer not 'think'?

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The thing is, with so many potentially symbolic movements (like helicopters in Symphony in Three Movements) and possible scenarios (like the pd2 in Agon), to what extent should a dancer not 'think'?

I think most dancers should avoid "commenting" on their own performances during the performance itself - and that's part of "Don't think, just do." One viewer's helicopter is another viewer's windmill; the audience provides allusions and associations rather than the dancer. There's the famous Tudor story about telling a group of dancers that a certain movement was like wishing upon a morning star, whereupon they all dutifully came forward and wished upon a morning star. There also comes a point in the process of preparing for a role when one needs to let go of it. When you see a dancer who is too controlled in his or her interpretation you'll notice it. Thinking is for rehearsal; the stage needs some spontaneity.

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I've seen six performances of the Stravinsky 2007 programme over the last couple of weeks and enjoyed them all. It's a terrific programme but we obviously are not as used to this type of programming in the UK and the audiences (particularly at the Lowry) were very small - although enthusiastic.

Violin Concerto was the only one of these works that I had not seen before and I really enjoyed it. I particularly enjoyed the cast that was Marr/Antonucci/Vallo/Cao because of the interaction between those four dancers.

My main exposure to Balanchine has been through BRB and I couldn't comment on the technicalities of interpretation except to say that they all looked fine to me.

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