Jump to content


This site uses cookies. By using this site, you agree to accept cookies, unless you've opted out. (US government web page with instructions to opt out: http://www.usa.gov/optout-instructions.shtml)

'Agon' and 'Symphony in Three Movements'For a first-timer...


  • Please log in to reply
22 replies to this topic

#1 scherzo

scherzo

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 123 posts

Posted 20 January 2007 - 02:05 PM

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?

#2 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 20 January 2007 - 03:10 PM

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!

#3 carbro

carbro

    Late Board Registrar

  • Rest in Peace
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 6,361 posts

Posted 20 January 2007 - 03:26 PM

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.

#4 Dale

Dale

    Emeralds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,054 posts

Posted 20 January 2007 - 03:38 PM

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.

#5 Kathleen O'Connell

Kathleen O'Connell

    Gold Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 785 posts

Posted 20 January 2007 - 05:51 PM

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!

#6 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 20 January 2007 - 07:59 PM

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.

#7 scherzo

scherzo

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 123 posts

Posted 21 January 2007 - 01:34 AM

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?

#8 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,332 posts

Posted 21 January 2007 - 06:54 AM

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.

#9 scherzo

scherzo

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 123 posts

Posted 21 January 2007 - 09:17 AM

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

#10 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 21 January 2007 - 10:05 AM

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.

#11 sandik

sandik

    Rubies Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 4,646 posts

Posted 21 January 2007 - 01:56 PM

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!

#12 scherzo

scherzo

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 123 posts

Posted 21 January 2007 - 02:50 PM

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!

#13 carbro

carbro

    Late Board Registrar

  • Rest in Peace
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 6,361 posts

Posted 21 January 2007 - 04:11 PM

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:

#14 scherzo

scherzo

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 123 posts

Posted 20 February 2007 - 03:06 PM

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....

#15 carbro

carbro

    Late Board Registrar

  • Rest in Peace
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 6,361 posts

Posted 20 February 2007 - 04:19 PM

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.


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):