American History

#OTD 1957: NYC Ballet Premiered Agon in Collaboration between Composer Stravinsky & Blanchine a Defining Moment in History

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Ace Press News From Cutting Room Floor: Published: Dec.01: 2022:

#AceHistoryDesk – On December 1, 1957, the New York City Ballet premiered Agon, a collaboration between composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and choreographer George Balanchine (1904-1983).

Agon, by Igor Stravinsky. Title page of the holograph score for two pianos, 1957. Imagination Gallery A. American Treasures of the Library of Congress.Music Division

The “Pas de deux” choreographed by Balanchine to the music of Stravinsky and danced by Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell became a defining moment in ballet history.

Both Russian émigrés, Stravinsky and Balanchine fled their homelandafter the turmoil of the Russian Revolution and eventually settled in the United States. Stravinsky dedicated Agon’s score to Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, founders of the New York City Ballet.

Portrait of Arthur Mitchell]. Carl Van Vechten, photographer, Dec. 20, 1955. Van Vechten Collection. Prints & Photographs Division.

Stravinsky was the most important composer of ballet music in the twentieth century. He rose to international fame in 1910 for his work with the Ballets Russes, an innovative company founded in Paris by fellow Russian Sergei Diaghilev that launched the careers of major artists including dancers, choreographers, composers, and designers.

In 1928, Stravinsky worked with Balanchine, then a choreographer for the Ballets Russes, to produce Apollo (using Stravinsky’s Apollon musagète), the first work in their extraordinary and enduring creative partnership.

Balanchine’s and Kirstein’s founding of the New York City Ballet in 1948 gave Balanchine the platform he needed to create a series of masterpieces in which his choreography collaborated with Stravinsky’s music.

Agon was among these. Some of the dances in Agon, an abstract, plotless ballet for eight female and four male dancers, were suggested by a description of seventeenth-century French court dances. Recueil de dances, composées par M. Feuillet, a compilation of works choreographed by Raoul-Auger Feuillet and bound with his Chorégraphie, ou l’art de décrire la dance par caractères. . . is a work from that very era. It is one of more than 200 dance manuals in An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals, ca. 1490 to 1920. Many of the manuals provide historical information on theatrical dance. A special presentation, Western Social Dance: An Overview, includes sections on Renaissance Dance and Baroque Dance, performance traditions that influenced both Stravinsky and Balanchine.

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