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Humor In Agon

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It's hard to pick which one of Balanchine's ballets is the wittiest. Union Jack, Western Symphony, and Stars And Stripes are all witty in thier own unique way. I've always found Agon to be the one that makes me smile and sometimes laugh in humorous delight.

Some standouts:

In the first pas de trois, the man's Sarabande solo is the movement I've read described as "stamping out a cigarette" , but I always think of it as squishing a spider. Then in the coda the three dancers do a sort of loosey goosey movement with the arms and legs that's totally unexpected yet delightfully funny (this is my favorite section of the Stravinsky score).

In the second pas de trois the amusing Amazonian strutting of the woman and the very end of the Bransle Simple and the Bransle Double. Each ends in a pose that's like a choreographic exclamation point that always makes me smile.

And then that extraordinary pas de deux. I read somewhere a theory that the movement in this pas de deux was perhaps Balanchine's commentary on the physical therapy that Tanaquil LeClerqc went through after her polio. I'm not sure about that but the man does manipulate the woman into strange, extreme and wonderous shapes. And maybe it's just me but it seems that though he is the one doing the manipulation of her , she is the one who is really in charge. The man even ends up completely prone at her feet ( or pointe) several times. To me it's Balanchines most delightful and wittiest pas de deux.

When I've read anything discussing Balanchine and humor in his ballets, I've never read anyone mention Agon. So.............am I odd or what? Does anyone else feel this about Agon?

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Great topic. I first saw Agon (as a very young and ignorant viewer) in what I think was it's second year, so I have some memories of the original audience reactions to this ballet.

There was certainly humor in the way that movement occurred, shifted, interacted with the music. Your reminder of the cigarette squashing movement definitely sticks in my memory. I recall that kind of nervous -- or "in the know" -- laughter breaking out occasionally.

More than humor, there was wit. I first saw Agon on the same program as the Act II Swan Lake, so I was very struck by the way the movements seemed to provide a kind of commentary on classical ballet movement: a kind of anti-ballet; a kind of repartee. Jumps with toes turned up. Flexed feet when you expected pointed feet. Fluctuations between ballet-proper and street-swagger. None of this was anything as common on the ballet stage as it came to be. It all flowed with the music, but there were incongruities and so many unexpected things that turned out to be so "right."

I've seen Agon a number of times since then, but have never really smiled and chuckled spontaneously since then.

Incidentally, I looked up "wit" in Bartlett's and came upon this quote from Dryden, "To the Memory of Mr. Oldham":

"Wit will shine through the harsh cadence of a rugged line."

I don't know the original context, but this certainly applies to Balanchine's choreography (if, perhaps, you remove the word "rugged").

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Great topic. I first saw Agon (as a very young and ignorant viewer) in what I think was it's second year, so I have some memories of the original audience reactions to this ballet.

I have to be honest, when I first saw the piece in the late 60s , I had no idea what to make of it. It seemed like Agon-y.

However time and experience are powerful agents, and yes, now I can see some of the wittiness that Perky mentions. Also in general, I now "get" the piece; it is no longer Agon-y for me.

Stravinsky in general (not just this score) was very hard for me as a teenager. Now I hear his music very differently


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I don;t really see the wit in Agon. However, I *do* see the wit (if it's a bit dark) in Theme and Variations. The part where the entire corps line has to interwine arms seems to me to be a parody of the Cygnets, and I'm sure there are spills and trips galore in any rehearsal of this ballet.

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I haven't seen it in recent Agon performances, but when I first saw it (by the Royal Ballet in the early 1970s) the pas de trois with the woman and two men, where she does the tricky balancing bit, ended by the woman coming forward and giving a little nod to the audience, a brief, "I did it, and you thought maybe I couldn't" acknowledgement that was so witty, just a brief connection with the audience that was so warm. I saw it in older Agon performances at NYCB, but it seems to have disappeared, and I am sorry. Now the balancing bit seems to be so nonchalant, almost throw away, which tones down the whole piece, I think.

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