#Throwback Thursday: Agon

This week's #ThrowbackThursday features Balanchine's ballet Agon.

Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams

Agon is a work for twelve dancers, choreographed by George Balanchine to music by Igor Stravinsky. Balanchine started the work in 1953, but was interrupted. He did not resume the ballet until 1956. Stravinsky's music first premiered separately to the ballet, in Los Angeles conducted by Robert Craft on June 17, 1957. Stravinsky's composition took some years to complete, and represents an interesting turn in his career; his usual diatonic musical language moved to a twelve-tone technique; thus musical idioms are prevalent.

Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams in rehearsal

The ballet premiered on December 1, 1957, at the City Centre for Music and Drama in New York. The cast of the original New York City Ballet production included Todd Bolender, Barbara Millberg, Barbara Walczak, Roy Tobias, Jonathan Watts, Melissa Hayden, Diana Adams, and Arthur Mitchell. The pairing of Arthur Mitchell, an African-American, and Diana Adams, a white woman, during a time when segregation was still prevalent in America drew outrage from some circles, but Balanchine refused to re-cast. Mitchell was not able to perform the role on American television until 1968. Mitchell later commented that the difference in skin colour between the two dancers became a part of the choreography, and their pas de deux remains a famous piece.

Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams in rehearsal

The ballet has no story, like many of Balanchine's works, and is danced in pairs, trios, and quartets. Balanchine took inspiration from several 17th century French court dances, including the saraband, galliard, and bransle. The work has been revived many times, most usually by the New York City Ballet; this includes a performance at the 1982 Stravinsky Centennial Celebration.

Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins, in a later performance

Here's Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams in the pas de deux from Agon:

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

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