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What's going on in "Agon"


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#1 Mel Johnson

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Posted 06 December 2002 - 04:15 AM

There's a current thread going on relating to a Jennifer Homans review of Joseph's new book on Balanchine and Stravinsky. In it, she quotes the background to the score and de Lauze's Apologie de la Danse, a seventeenth-century dance manual.

It put me in mind of a time I was watching Catherine Turocy and her company dance excerpts of pre-classic dances, and when one girl stepped forward to dance a gigue, I was immediately struck..."My God, it's 'Agon' "!

So the question is put to the group: When you see "Agon", do you recognize the pre-classic forms (ah, pace, Louis Horst) which undergird the dances? For people who have seen it, what did MacMillan do with it in his version? Are there plots or plotlets going on in the dances in anyone's mind? What say, this looks like a good opportunity to open up a work of later 20th-century genius. I'd be interested in your insights.

#2 grace

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Posted 08 December 2002 - 12:36 AM

i wasn't aware that macmillan did an 'agon'?

#3 grace

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Posted 16 December 2002 - 04:56 PM

elsewhere i noticed that leigh has written a long paper on agon...is it online, leigh? maybe you could just give us the link?

;)

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 16 December 2002 - 05:26 PM

Re MacMillan's "Agon," this is from Alexander Bland's "The Royal Ballet, The First 50 Years." MacMillan's ballet premiered 7 months after Ballanchine's.

"With remarkable alacrity MacMillan...studied the score and digested it sufficiently well to consider composing his own choreography. It was presented at Covent Garden in August 1958. The music, with its sharp short rhythms and epigrammatic structure carried much further the idiom with which Covent Garden audiences had only slowly come to terms in Ashton's Scenes de ballet. The wry, enigmatic mood suggested by MacMillan and his designer Georgiadis introduced a new and very personal note...."

grace, I don't think Leigh's Agon piece is on line; Ballet Review articles are not, to my knowledge.

#5 grace

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Posted 18 December 2002 - 12:10 PM

thanks alexandra - were there any photos of this piece?

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 18 December 2002 - 12:17 PM

grace, I think (THINK) I remember one in the Ballet Annual for 1958. Do you have that in libraries down there? :)

#7 grace

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Posted 18 December 2002 - 12:29 PM

ballet annual? i don't think i've heard of it - unless you mean those old B/W books, which i think were put together by arnold haskell?

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 18 December 2002 - 12:39 PM

Yes. Haskell's "Ballet Annuals".

#9 grace

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Posted 18 December 2002 - 12:56 PM

gosh no - they wouldn't be in any library here.

i was just wondering what sort of 'look' macmillan's version had?

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 18 December 2002 - 01:06 PM

I don't have time to check it now (I may later this week) but my memory is -- I THINK! -- black tights, geometric tops (obviously you can't tell the color), so a "modern" look (for 1958). I also have an impression that the ballet had at least comic elements, if not an out and out comedy.

One of my Curiosity Triple Bills would be:

Serenade (Fokine's ballet to that music)
Apollo (Adolf Bolm, danced at the Library of Congress by Bolm and Ruth Page)
Agon (MacMillan)

#11 grace

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Posted 18 December 2002 - 01:19 PM

a "curiosity triple bill"! what a great idea!

alexandra wrote, about macmillan's agon costumes

"obviously you can't tell the color"

this reminded me that, growing up with ballet books full of B/W photos, i must have unconsciously made a lot of assumptions about colours. the first time i saw symphonic variations, i was SO shocked by the backdrop - i suppose i must have assumed this ballet WAS in B/W or at least shades of grey - which would have been so appropriate...so, to see its vivid lime green was genuinely shocking.

of course, i came to appreciate the colour - and all the more so when i understood where it came from - but was amazed at how wrong i had been, in my unconscious assumption.

not meaning to misdirect the topic...

#12 Ari

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Posted 18 December 2002 - 01:37 PM

I remember seeing a photo of MacMillan's Agon once. The dancers were in black and white costumes, but the women wore tutus. It must have been a color photo, because I remember thinking it interesting that he chose black and white as the color scheme. Still, he did go with tutus.

#13 Mel Johnson

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Posted 18 December 2002 - 03:56 PM

I don't want to quash further discussion of MacMillan's "Agon", but I'd also like to get input on what people think is happening with the more familiar Balanchine version. After all, he said something like, "if you put a man and a woman onstage together, there's a story." In "Agon", there are twelve dancers. Anything seem to be happening between and among them, even given somewhat updated seventeenth-century "party manners"?

#14 carbro

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Posted 10 January 2003 - 10:20 PM

I think that in its way, Agon resembles Liebeslieder. Much has been made of the transition in Liebeslieder from public (part 1) to private (part 2), and the same seems to be implied in Agon.

It opens with the full cast (public), then the two lighthearted pas de trois (not really public or private), and devolves into the (private) erotic encounter of the pas de deux. If there is any trace of preclassical dancing in the pas de deux, it is well hidden, but here again is a microcosm of the history of dance from people's everyday movements into a ritualization of same, into folk/social forms, into theatricalized forms. Only it's in reverse in Agon. Until the full cast returns.

I'm beginning to feel that I'm going pretty far out on a limb here. Help! Does this make sense? :confused: I'm gonna go think some more on this.

#15 Mel Johnson

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Posted 11 January 2003 - 03:28 AM

Interesting analysis of a sort of "sonata form" that exists in some Balanchine ballets. In addition to the works cited, this form is also evident in "Bugaku".

I believe that the pas de deux is marked "Sarabande" in the score, and I couldn't see the preclassicism in it either, until I saw Turocy's dancers (mentioned above) doing the original dance. Of course, Balanchine quickly takes off from the historic base, but the few steps and figures that make up the sarabande are there.


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