Ballet created on 1st December 1957 at the City Center in New York by the New York City Ballet.
Of the original project, imagined by Balanchine and Stravinsky, who wished to complete their two “Greek” ballets – Apollon Musagète (1927) and Orpheus (1948) with a third component, only the title “Agon” (which means “combat” in Greek) and the idea of a danced contest remain today.
Using serial writing, Stravinsky composed a suite of airs modelled on the dances of the French court of the 17th century (and from where he borrowed some names: sarabande, gaillard, branle). Created for eight female dancers and four male dancers, this argument-free ballet consists of a succession of dances for different formations that span from soli to quadruple trio and where the upbeat part is a pas de deux.
With subtle musicality, the choreography combines reminiscences of historic dance steps and ever-so refined, acrobatic, classical body language, with the characteristic Balanchine-touch (broken ankles and wrists, turns and twists on bent knees, projected movements of the pelvis, etc.). Danced on a bare stage, with dancers wearing only simple dance leotards and tights, this masterpiece of the 20th century repertoire is a perfect synthesis of Balanchine's art.
Source : Dictionnaire de la danse – Philippe Le Moal – éd. Larousse
An American dancer and choreographer of Russian origin.
Born in Saint Petersburg, the son of a Georgian composer, Balanchine joined the Mariinski Dance School by chance and graduated in 1921. In 1924, whilst on a tour with the Soviet State Dancers in Germany, he left his country and joined Diaghilev's Russian Ballet troupe as a dancer. Promoted to ballet master in 1925, he asserted his vocation as a choreographer and began a close partnership with Igor Stravinsky. When Diaghilev died in 1929, he worked sporadically in London (for the music hall), Copenhagen and Paris. He collaborated with the Russian Ballet of Monte Carlo (1931-1932), then, after meeting Edward James, the Anglo-American millionaire and surrealist arts patron, he founded the Ballets in 1933, with whom he performed several times in Paris and London. He went on to accept a proposal from L. Kirstein, to create a classical school in the United States and established himself in New York in August 1933 and became an American citizen in 1939. After creating the School of American Ballet (1934), he became director of the American Ballet. He was invited to create works for the Original Russian Ballet (1941), the American Ballet Caravan (1941), the Russian Ballet of Monte Carlo and the Paris Opera. From 1935 to 1951, he also choreographed for Broadway stages (“On Your Toes” in 1936; “Babes in Arms” in 1937; “Cabin in the Sky” in 1940; “Where's Charley?” in 1948) and for several Hollywood films with V. Zorina. But it was in particular as the director of the Ballet Society of the NYCB, from 1948 onwards, that he enjoyed a fertile and prestigious career.
Balanchine prioritized the danced element. Very early on, he deliberately distanced himself from dramatic narration and, although he created a few theme-based ballets (“Apollon Musagète” in 1927; “The Prodigal Son” in 1929; “La Sonnambula” in 1946; “Orpheus” in 1948 and “Nutcracker” in 1954), he did so by eliminating all pantomime and sought to recount the story clearly and exclusively through the expression of dance. He also arranged “ambience ballets”, which were, as such, without intrigue, but maintained the situations and/or the characters that the partition suggested (“Cotillon” in 1932; “Serenade” in 1934; “la Valse” in 1951; “Liebeslieder Walzer” in 1960 and “Tzigane” in 1975).
The music and how it was interpreted were the cornerstones of his work. For him “ballet is first and foremost a matter of tempo and space: space delimited by the stage and by time initiated by the music”. His most specific productions were theme-free ballets whose construction and form emanated from the musical source. Without illustrating, he allows a partition, that has been composed or not for dance, to be visualized, by building on the rhythmic structure, the melody and the harmonic development of the work selected: “Watch the music, listen to the dance” he advised. Although he had a preference for classical works, he also used a more modern registry and occasionally a popular or jazz one. Notwithstanding, his favourite composers were Tchaikovsky and in particular Stravinsky, with whom he created over thirty ballets.
Privileging scenographic denudation so that the regard could focus on the choreography, he generally opted for a bare stage and costumes that emphasized silhouettes, regularly imposing simple tunics and leotards.
Esteeming Petipa as his spiritual father, he was in keeping with the classical tradition and referred to academic steps so that he could in fact go beyond them. He developed a style that was characterized by an external appearance that was carried to the extreme, dynamic, precise and vigorous movements, haunched positions, complex combinations of steps that could even veer to the acrobatic, swiftness in performing that was in accordance with the tempi of the musical works that inspired him. He advocated formal beauty that tended towards pureness, technical virtuosity transcended by the performers' mastery and he gave preeminence to the dancer. He worked with a myriad of “muses”, ballerinas with long, slender legs and discreet silhouettes, that he often led to make their debut at a very young age.
Acclaimed as one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century, he contributed to the “Americanization” of ballet and played a key role in the development of musicals, where he introduced classical dance and, paradoxically, the principles of narrative ballet.
Source : Larousse Dance Dictionary online
More information : balanchine.com
Choreography : George Balanchine
Original music : Igor Stravinsky
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