Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Louise Nadeau’

Go If

Agon is probably one of the quintessential Balanchine pieces in every balletomane’s punch card. You should go if you love Balanchine, abstract, short and/or neo-classical ballets. Or try it for the landmark score: this is where Stravinsky began exploring his twelve-tone technique (more on this below).

Skip If

You are a strictly 19th century classical ballet fan and all of the above makes you cringe, especially the thought of music without an overall melodic theme (as you often exit the theatre whistling to Swan Lake!).

Dream Cast

NYCB (particularly if Wendy Whelan dances the pas de deux), after all, they are the Balanchine company per excellence.

Background and Structure

Balanchine and Stravinsky. Source: Oberons Grove. Copyright belongs to its corresponding owners.

Balanchine and Stravinsky. Source: Oberon's Grove. Copyright belongs to its corresponding owners.

Around 1948 Balanchine‘s benefactor Lincoln Kirstein had an idea for a ballet which would form a “greek trilogy” together with that choreographer’s earlier collaborations with Stravinsky: Apollo and Orpheus. The concept was discussed at the time but a couple of years would pass before concrete plans were drawn and a structure agreed. Stravinsky started composing for the new ballet in 1953. He came up with the title Agon, the greek word for contest but also a  reference to the various 17th century French court dances he had studied from Lauze’s Apologie de la Danse (1623) and this set the frame for Balanchine’s choreography.

Agon marked the third and last time Stravinsky would specifically compose music for a Balanchine ballet (though the choreographer continued to use other Stravinsky music in  later works). On the other hand it was the first time where Stravinsky applied to his work 12-tone serialism techniques, which he had just started experimenting with.

Stravinsky’s previous compositions had been structured in diatonic scale, in other words, they had been based on major and minor scales (click links for audio examples), which give a strong feeling of a tonal center, the major keys a bright sound and the minor keys a moodier sound. One can build a diatonic scale by playing the white keys on a piano keyboard within an octave, in the sequence -Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do – (see figure) 

Octave on a Piano

Octave on a Piano. Image: Guido Tattoni © Source: Smack my pitch up

Between two half steps or semitones (Mi-Fa and Ti-Do – or in the picture Si-Do) there are either two whole steps or tones (Do-Re-Mi) or three whole steps (Fa-Sol-La-Ti), giving the diatonic scale its rich tonality and clear sounds.

There are however, other types of scales. Chromatic scales for instance are sequences of tones (whole steps) preceeded by semitones (half steps). One can build a chromatic scale by playing a sequence of black and white keys in order, without leaving any out. The result is uniform and different to the major scale above where tones and semitones are arranged in a particular way. A chromatic scale has 12 tones (NB: there are 12 tones or notes in an octave. Just count the number of keys in the figure above: Do, Do Sharp, Re, Re Sharp, Mi, Fa, Fa sharp, Sol, Sol sharp, La, La sharp, Ti).

The twelve-tone technique of serialism arranges notes from a chromatic scale so that in an octave none of its 12 notes prevail over another, each note appearing just once before a new series begins. This method was developed by Arnold Schoenberg in the early twenties and later developed by his disciples Alban Berg and Anton von Webern. The resulting music is often referred to as atonal and cerebral.

Even though Agon starts with a diatonic, non-serial structure, Stravinsky combined parts that had a tonal centre (think of the violin solo in the coda of the first pas de trois) with serialist parts (the flute, mandolins & harps in the Galliard). In order to concentrate on other works and further his experience with serialism Stravinsky shelved Agon for a couple of years and then returned to create the central – very serialist – part of the work (the first coda and the bransles, ie. the moves from side to side), following Schoenberg and Webern’s ideas. 

Besides the new composition techniques, Stravinsky also used specific instruments to identify the dancers in the ballet – brass for men and woodwind for women – as well as traditional French court dance references: the bransles (couples dancing in circle, side to side), galliards (an athletic dance with plenty of jumps),  sarabande and pas de deux/quatre.

NYCB in Agon. Photo: Elliott Franks © Source: The Telegraph

NYCB in Agon. Photo: Elliott Franks © Source: The Telegraph

Balanchine built his choreography in response to Stravinsky’s score. Taking into account the serial 12-note concept he  conceived a ballet with 12 dancers (4 men and 8 women) and 12 movements (4 sections of 3 dances each). The ballet starts with the four male dancers facing the back of the stage and the dances develop as follows:

Pas de Quatre – the men
Double Pas de Quatre – the women
Triple Pas de Quatre – the ensemble

Prelude – 1 man, 2 women
Saraband-step – 1 man
Galliard – 2 women
Coda – 1 man, 2 women

Interlude – 2 men, 1 woman
Bransles:
Simple – 2 men
Gay 1 woman
Double – 2 men, 1 woman

Interlude – 1 man, 1 woman
Pas de Deux – 1 man, 1 woman*
Four Pas de Deux – the men and 4 women
Four Pas de Trois – the ensemble
Coda – the ensemble

NYCB in Agon. Photo: Tristram Kenton © Source: The Guardian

NYCB in Agon. Photo: Tristram Kenton © Source: The Guardian

The *pas de deux is one of Agon’s most unique features. The music sounds disjointed, with few instruments being used at a time, but it is still possible to identify the basic components: an adagio, two variations and a coda with the key difference of a role reversal for the dancers, the woman seeming to lead the male into assorted extreme poses rather than the opposite. There are several famous images such as the one where the ballerina wraps around her partner with her leg in attitude, or her 180º arabesque whilst the male dancer is lying on the floor.

PNBs Olivier Weavers and Louise Nadeau in Agon. Photo: Angela Sterling / PNB © Source: ArtsPlace

PNB's Olivier Weavers and Louise Nadeau in Agon. Photo: Angela Sterling / PNB © Source: ArtsPlace

When the score calls for serial 12-note themes, dancers respond with isolated movements and hints of the courtly dances on which they are based (the men bowing to the women). If the music presents a canon of two trumpets, the dancers perform in canon (ie. successively) to match the trumpets in the music. In the final section, as the score goes back to opening motifs, the dancers resume the same opening image of four male dancers facing the back of the stage.

Stravinsky finished the score in the spring of 1957 and Agon premiered on December 1, 1957, as part of a triple bill featuring Apollo and Orpheus. It was an easy winner with the audience, since it depicted classical ballet in a different and novel way, showing conflict and resolution between various forms of dance, movement and shape.

Videos

Sorry no YouTube videos! But there are certain DVDs and VHS* tapes (if you are able to view these) featuring glimpses of Agon.

  • Balanchine (1984) [link]
  • The Balanchine Celebration, Part Two* [link]
  • Bringing Balanchine Back [link]
  • Dancing for Mr. B: Six Balanchine Ballerinas [link]
  • Peter Martins: Dancer* [link]

Music

Agon had its first concert performance in June 1957 in Los Angeles. It is still often performed on its own and much valued as a piece which combines both serial and non-serial elements. At an average length of 25 min, it can be easily uploaded to your favourite mp3 player. It can be downloaded from iTunes [link] or streamed via Spotify [link].

Mini-Biography

Choreography: George Balanchine
Music: Igor Stravinsky
Original Cast: Todd Bolender, Barbara Milberg, Barbara Walczak, Roy Tobias, Jonathan Watts, Melissa Hayden, Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell.
Premiere: December 1, 1957, NYCB. City Center of Music and Drama, New York.

Sources and Further Information

  1. Agon in Context by Richard Jones. Ballet.co Magazine, April 2004. [link]
  2. Wikipedia Entry for Agon (ballet) [link]
  3. NYCB Agon Repertory Notes [link]
  4. 50 Years Ago, Modernism Was Given a Name: Agon by Alastair Macaulay. November 2007, NY Times [link]
  5. The Bransles of Stravinsky’s Agon: A Transition to Serial Composition by Bonnie S. Jacobi. [link]

Read Full Post »

bb_awards_09

The 2008/2009 Royal Ballet season was filled with golden tickets, but which acts made the Bag Ladies tick the most? As we gear up to restock for the new season (tickets go on public sale in 2 weeks), see our top dancers & top dances below and feel free to use the comment form to opine on who was just the ticket for you!

Melissa Hamilton in Infra. Photo:Laurie Lewis - Royal Ballet ©. Source: The Independent.

Melissa Hamilton and Eric Underwood in Infra. Photo:Laurie Lewis - Royal Ballet ©. Source: The Independent.

Best “New Kid On The Block”: Melissa Hamilton

She was a golden vision in her first big role, stepping in for (and looking remarkably like) Sarah Lamb on L’Invitation au Voyage, but Melissa soon made a mark of her own in a selection of modern pieces like McGregor’s Infra, Acis & Galatea, Wheeldon’s DGV and Marriott’s Sensorium, making the most of her edgy line and incredible extensions.

Comeback Guy: Steven McRae

Injury may have robbed him of touring last summer & of some chunky debuts (including Lescaut in Manon) but McRae returned to the stage just in time to sparkle in The Nutcracker, shine as the Golden Idol, create principal roles in McGregor’s sleek productions of Dido & Aeneas/Acis & Galatea and bag a promotion to Principal, no mean feat! (For a full feature on Steven, see our previous post).

Comeback Girl: Alina Cojocaru

Alina was sorely missed at Covent Garden for over a year, which was more or less the time it took her to undergo & recover from neck surgery. But in April she returned triumphantly in one of her signature roles, Giselle, amongst a shower of daffodils for the ages. She also managed to play her quirky side in the sweet & short Les Lutins, glow like the most brilliant jewel in Diamonds and join the RB summer tour for the first time since 2006.

Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg in Giselle. Photo: Tristram Kenton ©. Source: The Guardian

Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg in Giselle. Photo: Tristram Kenton ©. Source: The Guardian.

Drama Guy: Johan Kobborg

From his intense and deep reading of Des Grieux and the teacher in The Lesson to his display of virtuosity in classical roles such as Solor, Siegfried and Albrecht, Johan keeps showing us he still has it at 37. We may have missed his partnership with Alina, but at least there was that one Giselle. His future as a choreographer looks promising, given that he got stellar reviews on his short work for the Linbury, Les Lutins.

Drama Girl: Tamara Rojo

Intensely beautiful in Ondine, beautifully intense in Isadora, lush in Manon, luxe in Emeralds, Tamara squeezed dramatic juice in every role she was cast and brought home two DVDs (soon to be released “La Bayadère” and “Manon”, both with Carlos Acosta) to add to her Romeo and Juliet which is rumoured to be “on its way”.

Whiz Guy: Sergei Polunin

We knew we could expect great things from Polunin, after that taste of his Golden Idol last season. With outstanding debuts in Tetley’s Voluntaries, as Solor and in the Nutcracker, he spent all season stealing the thunder from more established colleagues. The reward was a deserved promotion to First Soloist, and a main feature in the ROH media campaign for the upcoming season. All of this at 19!

Marianela Nuñez. Source: Opusarte ©. Copyright belongs to its respective owners

Marianela Nuñez. Source: Opusarte ©. Copyright belongs to its owners

Whiz Girl: Marianela Nuñez

A great season for Marianela, with lots of opportunitities to display her pristine technique and to bag big roles such as Giselle. Her “4 great Swan Lakes in 7 days” deserves a wizardry award of  its own, but on top of that, she gave stellar performances in abstract pieces, from which we definitely remember Voluntaries, Serenade and that Pas de Deux in Infra.

All-rounder Guy: Ed Watson

Yes, we know that this category seems lifted from the 2008 Dancing Times Award where both Ed and Yuhui (see below) won accolades but Watson was truly a “man for all seasons”, dancing in 13 out of 24 ballets (the busiest principal of all) and leaving a mark of diversity both in the quality of his dancing & repertoire, which spanned from old classics (Giselle, Firebird, Ondine) to the 20th century classics (Manon, Dances at a Gathering) and the contemporary (Infra, Acis & Galatea, DGV).

All-rounder Girl: Yuhui Choe

Injuries for some, opportunities for others. Added to scheduled debuts as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Nikiya, Yuhui also made the most of whatever chances she got to cover for her seniors, displaying her ethereal dancing, strong musicality, those trademark soft arms (Dances At a Gathering, Les Sylphides), coupled with energy & attack (The Lesson, Rubies).

Carlos Acosta and Alexandra Ansanelli in Rubies. Photo: Johan Persson- Royal Ballet ©. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

Carlos Acosta and Alexandra Ansanelli in Rubies. Photo: Johan Persson- Royal Ballet ©. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

Best Partnership: Alexandra Ansanelli & Carlos Acosta

Fair enough, Alexandra and Carlos were never really a partnership (they had a brief stint in La Bayadère, back in January) but the sizzling chemistry they displayed in Rubies, in roles which were  so in tune with their own abilities, made us wish, first that Alexandra would have been cast to dance with Carlos in Dances at a Gathering back in March and second, for a world in which Alexandra was not retiring, so we could see them paired again. Easily the best couple in Jewels, it  was clear that Carlos found his match in Alexandra’s flirty and bendy ruby.

Best Narrative Production: Giselle

The Royal Ballet has productions of the classics that either go over the top of glittery & sweet or fall short when compared to its counterparts in other big companies, but Giselle truly deserves being nicknamed as “The Jewel in the RB’s Crown”. Sir Peter Wright‘s production brings the story to life with beautiful designs, costumes and most importantly, coherent storytelling through both the mime and choreographic sequences.

Best Abstract Production: Dances at a Gathering

DAAG really is like Mr. B said to Mr. Robbins: like popping peanuts in one’s mouth. The combination of the Chopin piano pieces, the delightful choreography and the RB’s unique imprint is so addictive we could watch it over and over again.

Best International Acts:

It’s not all about the RB all the time! While the dancers below have individually left their marks on us while visiting London throughout 2008/2009, hearsay is that even greater things happen when you pair them with their fellow company members. Mariinsky recent cast changes frustrated our plans to see team Obr/Shk, but we have not yet lost hope. So, which couples would you recommend we travel far to catch? Here is a shortlist that we assembled based on our exchanges with fellow Twitterers:

Tiler Peck & Daniel Ulbricht, NYCB

Yevgenia Obraztsova & Vladimir Shklyarov, Mariinsky

Veronika Part & Marcelo Gomes, ABT

Please cast your vote on our Facebook page (link to the poll), or let us know who you think deserves the accolade. 

And last but not least,

Dancers who will be missed:

RB’s Alexandra Ansanelli , RB’s Isabel McMeekan, PNB’s Louise Nadeau, SFB’s Tina LeBlanc.

Share

Read Full Post »