There were two dancers out of Brahms/Schoenberg last night, Simone Messmer and Sarah Van Patten, which meant that Sofiane Syve had to dance in all three works. Taras Domitro, also out of the running, was to be Pascal Molat’s alternative in Agon. All three of these things might have resulted in the cancellation of Agon on Wednesday.
But the performances of Agon have been off the mark this past week.
Perhaps it’s that San Francisco Ballet, on their website, characterizes Agon as a Post-Modernist ballet, which is hardly possible considering that it was made in 1957 and that Balanchine was a High Modernist choreographer, never a pasticheur. And it's also that the San Francisco Examiner critic refers to the “barely hidden whimsical subtext” of this production. All of which hints that we’re not seeing the same ballet that Balanchine made.
Agon is a series of algebraic equations quickly charted out on a black board (the dancers' socks are their chalk). It’s full of quick twists and arcs drawn by the hand and kicks to the end points of those arcs. There are jumps, pas de chats, flutters of feet, zig zags of legs and crossed ankles, sudden plunges forward.
Agon is a chain of causes and effects where every effect becomes a new cause.
And it’s a kind of clockwork where two dancers have to be off by just a half a beat or half a unit for it to work – just like the violin and viola in Concerto Barocco.
The dancers on Program 8 put on a great effort but they seemed to be dancing as independent agents and you didn’t see the visual overtones. Did no one look at the Balanchine Celebration tape of the straight-forward, no-nonsense performances of Peter Boal and Arch Higgins? Or even the recent Dutch Ballet clips? Or try to borrow back some of the Agon rigor they had in Shostakovich Trilogy?
Brahms/Schoenberg was on the other hand quite lovely. It had less of the strangeness and eerieness that the City Ballet production of 2004 had, but was nonetheless a very satisfying end-of-season work to see. I liked the third movement best. I think it’s the four colors of costumes – pinks for the corps and pink and red for the demis, red for the ballerina and a contrasting petro blue for the ballerino – that do it for me. Dores Andre and Joan Boada were in great form, and brought off nicely the odd recto/verso figures the ballerina makes as she’s lifted overhead.