Where is the humor in Agon?

January 20, 2010

It’s there, in the choreography, but I don’t see it in the dancing. I never really focused on it before, cause there is so much going on in that ballet—the bold lines, the now-thick-now-thin Stravinsky music, the mathematics of trios, quartets, and duos. And it’s such an iconic ballet as a landmark of Balanchine’s style. But last night, at NYCB, I suddenly saw the wit, the sense of surprise in the movements. A hand here, a sudden entwining there, an unexpected pause, and then a small gesture to cap it off. Even the coming forward to take a bow after each section has a certain irony, because it comments on the “games” aspect of Agon and makes you see the differences between Balanchine’s conciseness and a big bravura ballet.


So for the first time I got the sense of fun and even mischief Balanchine must’ve had when he made this ballet. Not to mention the at-the-time (1957) transgressiveness of putting a white woman and black man together in super intimate geometries in the final pas de deux (which is one reason why it’s nice to see Albert Evans and Wendy Whelan performing it even though the difference of skin shades is thankfully no longer shocking).


I liked the trio last night because Tyler Angle, Craig Hall (replacing Adrian Danchig-Waring), and Teresa Reichlen are all such pure classical dancers with open chests. But there are little witty things in that section that could have been highlighted. I don’t expect to laugh out loud, it’s not that kind of funny. But I’d like to see an awareness, a secret knowing that a surprise is coming up, and an ability to hold back and then spring forward.