What's going on in "Agon"
Posted 11 January 2003 - 06:21 AM
Posted 11 January 2003 - 06:26 AM
Posted 11 January 2003 - 07:21 AM
Posted 11 January 2003 - 08:38 AM
Posted 11 January 2003 - 12:11 PM
Posted 11 January 2003 - 12:21 PM
But I have no idea of the dates for either definition, nor any knowledge about the change. (Remembering that simply turning was considered vulgar onceuponatime -- or vulgar in France, at any rate; it was a German specialty. There's an anecdote in Kirstein's Classic Theatrical Dancing about how you could tell the guest at the ball was a German because he inserted a turn in the dance. Think of it!)
Is anyone familiar with Louis Horst's "Pre-Classic Dance Forms"? I used to have a copy but can't find it. It should have information on the sarabande.
Posted 11 January 2003 - 12:31 PM
I've also heard the comments the movements in Leclercq's physical therapy were channeled into the Agon pas de deux. It's certainly within the realm of possibility.
I also think the structural throughline that Carbro talks about is there, though I think it's more practical than a movement from the "public" to the "private" - the traditional centerpiece of a ballet is the pas de deux. Balanchine is mirroring a traditional format (just as he does in Sanguinic) and we get the secondary diversions that anticipate the main event.
A musical sideline that may help here - the music was composed over three years (1953-6) with a hiatus. Stravinsky started in a tonal style and became interested in serial technique before he completed the score. You hear two styles (the opening, the repeated entrees are tonal, the pas de deux and the close of the first pas de trois are serial). Perhaps this is what some people instinctively feel as a bifurcation in the ballet?
My feelings about the ballet are comparitively simple (and more strongly influenced by what Denby and Kirstein wrote than from any other sources). My most fanciful interpretation of the ballet is that it's a time capsule of New York in the late 50's. It probably wasn't intended as such, but for me it captures the zeitgeist of the City as I think it might have been, from the switching places in the triple pas de quatre in the opening (the dancers remind me of pedestrians dodging traffic) to the re-entry of the other dancers after the pas de deux, which for all the world reminds me for a moment of West Side Story.
Kirstein translated the title "Agon" as "contest" and further elaborated that he felt it was more of an exhibition of athletes displaying feats of prowess and strength than a contest with winners. I've always felt this was as close to the "truth" of Agon as I was going to get. We get much more conflict today in performances by Heather Watts or Wendy Whelan in the pas than one saw in Kent's performance, or Adams', which for me is sui generis. Is some of what you see "going on" in Agon dependent on who dances it?
Posted 11 January 2003 - 02:10 PM
I am fortunate enough still to have my copy of Horst, thanks largely to a sign I keep over my bookcases, "I am not allowed to lend people books. If I try to force a book on you, knock me down."
I believe that the dances in "Agon" are highly dependent on the personalities of the dancers interpreting the roles. I further believe that a lot of what goes on in a lot of NYCB ballets today is suffering from the "telephone" game, in which information is passed on from person to person, but with tiny glitches peculiar to the passer. Sometimes this phenomenon is helpful, sometimes it is less helpful, as in the "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" of another thread.
Posted 11 January 2003 - 02:12 PM
Not knowing Greek, I wonder if the meaning of "agon" could pertain as well to a struggle to overcome an obstacle (eg., paralysis) as to an athletic striving.
I did see Allegra -- once, late -- in Agon. It might be noted that she was around when LeClerc was stricken, and would likely be more directly aware of its source of inspiration. Leigh, where would you place Farrell's pdd on the scale between the Watts-Whelan sense of it and the Kent sense? (In how many roles did we not get some feeling of conflict from Heather?)
The opening section does resemble pedestrians dodging traffic -- and each other -- but it also reminds me of those little, plastic, slide-y puzzles with the numbers that you try to arrange in sequence.
Posted 11 January 2003 - 02:20 PM
Posted 11 January 2003 - 02:59 PM
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!
Posted 11 January 2003 - 03:02 PM
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.
Posted 11 January 2003 - 03:11 PM
- 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...
Posted 11 January 2003 - 03:16 PM
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