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Mel Johnson

What's going on in "Agon"

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That definition is so fitting. Thank you!

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i can't follow mel's post about 2nd position, but THIS seems most applicable when one thinks of the agon PDD: "she was paralyzed and could not move on her own, but a therapist could move her" (alexandra).

what a curious idea, that this could have been the derivation of these balletic movements....i find it very believable - if YOU ("all") say so!

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I have to admit that I think that saying that the pas de deux in Agon is "about" Leclercq's illness or even that it comments on it is more than I'd be willing to assert but then again, I'm very gun shy of interpreting another artist's work, especially Balanchine's. I do think that it's quite possible that Balanchine watched the movements LeClercq was asked to do for therapy and they made an impression on him. Interestingly, and I can't recall the source for this, but I know that an opinion expressed was that had Leclercq been able she would have been in Agon, but in the second pas de trois - Melissa Hayden's role rather than Adams'.

Balanchine worked on the pas de deux first; Adams and Mitchell came into rehearsals two weeks before the rest of the company. Also, Mitchell has mentioned on more than one occasion Balanchine's insistence that the pas de deux be absolutely right and that it took him longer than anything else he had ever done. Importantly, he also said Balanchine's instructions were that the woman was like a doll and that he was to manipulate her, Carbro, perhaps that does give fuel to your questions, although Mitchell says directly that the pas de deux was built specifically on Adams and her "nervous intensity". Unfortunately, Mitchell has also said that the music was also choreographed as the ballet was made, which is factually incorrect, so one has to take his assertions with that in mind. For me, the pas was literally about who did what to whom. The passivity or lack of passivity in it is key to its interpretation. Diana Adams' performance in it is viewable at the Library of Performing Arts - to me, she is like Eurydice. She doesn't look at Mitchell, but it's as if she must not look at him; as if the consequences would be awful. It should also be mentioned that several people I interviewed mentioned Balanchine's fascination with Mitchell's and Adam's skin color. It was less a race issue with him than almost a design one, the patterns produced by white and black skin together fascinated him.

I could be misremembering but I think Kent understudied the pas from early on and was performing it by 1959. For me, Farrrell is right in line with Kent's method of doing the pas and her heir is Darci Kistler. Especially when Farrell was young (see the 1965 tape of her & Mitchell in a trucated performance at the Library of Performing Arts) she did the pas as an innocent. Kistler doesn't even seem to recognize the man is there. And yes, I agree about the puzzle aspect of that section in the opening, the Japanese call that sort of puzzle "sokoban", I think! It may be their invention.

Mel, by the "opening" of the pas de deux, do you mean the entree up until the point where the dancers pose in pointe tendue back and the music pauses? If so, that's technically a different piece of music than the pas itself. It's a repeated part of the score (is that a ritournel?) that is used to open each of the smaller divertissements.

I also agree about the fact that there are changes that occur in "transmission" - it's fascinating. And as fascinating was the fact that Balanchine seemed to acknowledge that fact slightly in his earliest replacement casts. Kent for Adams, Villella for Bolender, perhaps to a lesser extent Verdy for Hayden (they were physically more similar), and certainly Francia Russell and Jillana for Barbara Walczak and Milberg, where he actually completely remade their dance in the first pas de trois - in all cases he replaced the original with someone who simply had to do the role differently. Bolender didn't teach Villella, Balanchine did, and his first words according to Villella were "Don't try to do this like Todd because you are en l'air dancer." I think change was part of the ballet for Balanchine.

I'm stealing ruthlessly in this post from my own articles on the subject, and I apologize to everyone who has heard me go on and on at length about the subject.

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OK - i managed to get off my chair and go look up a book! (mel - i love that sign of yours - i should do the same.) my source - peter buckman's 'Let's Dance' says about the saraband:

- in the 16th century, certainly, the dance and the song that accompanied it were considered by a Jesuit historian to be indecent in its words and disgusting in its movements....(makes you wonder, doesn't it?)...

- in 1583 anyone caught reciting its words was to be punished with 200 lashes (!) males were additionally to be sentenced to 6 years in the galleys, while females were to be exiled.

- "apparently it was once a sexual pantomime, (...sound familiar?...)for in Barcelona couples twisted their bodies to the rhythm of the castanets"

- from being erotic, it became a gliding processional dance...

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As a point of reference, not only is the male solo (rather than the pas de deux) in Agon a Sarabande, but so is the interpolated solo in Square Dance and what is sometimes interpolated as a variation for the prince in Act II of Sleeping Beauty (I could be getting that wrong, I know Nureyev interpolated a sarabande for the Prince in either Beauty or Swan Lake)

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Nureyev used one of the court dances (Marchonesses? I dont' remember; someone please correct me) as his solo in Sleeping Beauty II. It may well have been a Sarabande, but I couldn't swear to it -- someone else may well be able to clarify.

I didn't mean to imply that Agon was "about" LeClercq's illness -- but I think it's possible that the passivity/movement idea could have come from it. It's not that the pas de deux was intended for LeClercq.

Grace, good to see you again -- thanks for the history. It's interesting how this happens, isn't it? The waltz had a very different beginning, and the tango may well be a stately dance in 100 years.

Interesting how time smoothes the edges off of living things -- art, that is -- as well as stones!

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Originally posted by Leigh Witchel

Interestingly, and I can't recall the source for this, but I know that an opinion expressed was that had Leclercq been able she would have been in Agon, but in the second pas de trois - Melissa Hayden's role rather than Adams'.

This is interesting, Leigh — do you recall who said that? Arlene Croce once wrote that in using Adams in the pas, Balanchine was essentially creating by proxy for Le Clerq.

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Ari, I'm afraid I don't recall the source. I'm a little worried about how perfect my recall is after 6 years. I know I recall the gist of assertions, but the details I could be interpolating. :(

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RE leigh's

I have to admit that I think that saying that the pas de deux in Agon is "about" Leclercq's illness or even that it comments on it is more than I'd be willing to assert...
and alexandra's
I didn't mean to imply that Agon was "about" LeClercq's illness...
i hope these comments aren't in response to my post, which didn't mean to even slightly suggest this. can my words be read to suggest that, or is it another post you refer to? not meaning to affix 'blame' (!), but just to be sure my post isn't misunderstandable that way. if it is, i'll edit it. :(

i was thinking more along the lines that you both go on to put forward - just that 'something seen' went into the psyche (balanchine's)...and came out in another form.

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I was responding to Leigh's -- I understood yours, grace, to be as you wrote above. (And Leigh may have as well and was just adding. I added my comment because when people come halfway in on a thread, as often happens, it's easy to have misreadings.)

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Originally posted by Leigh Witchel

. . . several people I interviewed mentioned Balanchine's fascination with Mitchell's and Adam's skin color.  It was less a race issue with him than almost a design one, the patterns produced by white and black skin together fascinated him.

Not to discount the design value of contrasting skin tones, but I was once told that Adams' having been something of a Southern Belle played a part in the casting, that Balanchine was deliberately tweaking segregationists, even if in ways they may not have realized.

(I intend no implication that Adams herself held racist views.)

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Actually, you can see something of it in the 1960 kinescope, Carbro. Not the sense of Adams being Southern, or a sense of race, but a sense of class, and of worlds colliding. Adams holds herself in a very patrician manner, and as Mitchell mentioned in those interviews, there is a "nervous intensity" to her; not fidgety, but in the sense of a coiled spring that has to be kept under tension not to release it. Mitchell seems to be trying to affect her, and she seems to be attempting to remain aloof. It's that sense I get from the performance that makes the connection with Leclercq seem a bit less apt to me.

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Originally posted by Leigh Witchel

Mel, by the "opening" of the pas de deux, do you mean the entree up until the point where the dancers pose in pointe tendue back and the music pauses?  

No.

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Is not Prokofiev's slow dance at the Capulet ball a sarabande? Does MacMillan's resemble what it actually would have looked like?

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FABULOUS thread.

Carbro, a sarabande is in 3/4, very slow. Prokofiev's "dance of the Knights" (in Lavrovsky's version, the "pillow dance") is a march in 2/2.

Or are you thinking of Juliet's dance with Paris? THAT one is a slow dance in triple metre.

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Carbro, a sarabande is in 3/4, very slow. Prokofiev's "dance of the Knights" (in Lavrovsky's version, the "pillow dance") is a march in 2/2.
You're asking what I was thinking in 2003? :o:dry: Actually, pretty sure I had the pillow dance in mind. Thank you for the answer, though!

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