American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Memory, Exhibit Object Focus

previous objectback to exhibit casenext object

A Ballet for Balanchine

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Composer's autograph reduction
for two pianos, 1957
Music Division

[Igor Stravinsky] published in Vanity Fair
Miguel Covarrubias (1904-1957)
[Igor Stravinsky] published in Vanity Fair,
October 1925
Prints & Photographs Division (168.2)

Igor Stravinsky's ballet Agon (meaning "contest") was first danced on December 1, 1957, by the New York City Ballet, with choreography by another Russian emigre artist, George Balanchine (1904-1983). The music had received its premiere in Los Angeles in a concert held the previous June, with Robert Craft conducting. As seen here on the title page of the holograph score, the composer dedicated the ballet to Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, cofounders of the New York City Ballet.

Agon is the third of three ballet collaborations between Stravinsky (1882-1971) and Balanchine, the other two being Apollon Musagete (1928) and Orpheus (1948).

Unlike those previous works, Agon is plotless, an abstract ballet for eight female and four male dancers. Some of the dances were suggested by a description of seventeenth-century French court dances, to which the titles of movements, such as "Bransle Simple," "Bransle Gay," and "Bransle de Poitou," bear witness.

Another influence was the music of the Second Vienna School, particularly Anton Webern. Stravinsky had written works using serial procedures within a tonal context, notably the Cantata of 1952, before beginning work on Agon in 1953. By the time he finished the ballet in April 1957, he had completed his Canticum Sacrum, which contains sections employing strict serial technique. Agon itself progresses from a basically diatonic, fanfarelike opening through a series of increasingly chromatic movements to a "Pas de deux" that speaks the language of the late, serial Stravinsky.

Balanchine rose to the musical language of the "Pas de deux" with a dance for Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell that became one of the defining moments of midcentury ballet. The ballet is the artistic and spiritual triumph of two artists who fled their homeland following the turbulence of revolution to seek artistic freedom of expression and who went on to transplant the musical and dance heritage of Imperial Russia onto American soil with spectacular results that forever changed dance.

previous objectback to exhibit casenext object

Library of Congress
Contact Us ( July 29, 2010 )
Legal | External Link Disclaimer