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NYCB Vol. 3 No. 30 - Agon

“In my opinion it is [Stravinsky’s]—it is our—most perfect work, representing a total collaboration between musician and choreographer.” —Balanchine, on Agon

I know we often mourn how much choreography has been lost to the passage of time. Details morph, intentions change. And it’s true. But today I am struck by how much HASN’T changed. For being such an ephemeral art form—only existing in people’s memories after a performance—I think it’s truly amazing that despite inevitable weathering and erosion, Balanchine’s ballets remain strong pillars. That in a 70-year-long game of telephone, where each generation passes the message on with a slight change, that we still can understand the original message.

Before Agon was an iconic ballet, it was just Balanchine’s newest ballet. But the MOMENTS that we now associate immediately with Agon—the female attitude wrapped around the partner, the assisted arabesque with the male laying down, the scorpion-like attitude—weren’t well-known images yet. Nonetheless, those moments were so powerful immediately, that Martha Swope had the instinct to capture them in the rehearsal room. Now (educated) photographers know to wait for those iconic moments to capture them. But in 1957, Martha just knew that those we THE moments. And the fact that they remain THE Agon moments to this day is pretty cool to me.

“For Agon has no plot, no specific emotional coloring, no dramatic incident. It does, of course, mirror the rhythms, the dynamics, and the witticisms of the music, but it does have a character of its own, for the movements are not only extensions of sound into physical substance but they also comment upon the score, occasionally tease it, race with it, rest with it, play with it.”

—Walter Terry in the New York Herald Tribune

Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams, 1957. Photos by Martha Swope

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