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New York City Ballet - Square Dance, Opus 19/The Dreamer, Agon

by Rachel Rabkin, Robert Abrams
February 9, 2003
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023
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New York City Ballet - Square Dance, Opus 19/The Dreamer, Agon

www.nycballet.org

By Rachel Rabkin with a concurring opinion by Robert Abrams
February 9, 2003

Ah, Sunday afternoon at the ballet. It doesn't get much better than that. This past weekend I spent the afternoon at Lincoln Center enjoying the New York City Ballet matinee. Though the three pieces performed were not my personal favorites, I was not disappointed.

Square Dance

Music by Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi
Choreography by George Balanchine
Lighting by Mark Stanley
Conductor: Maurice Kaplow
Principle dancers: Yvonne Borree and Nilas Martins

This piece lived up to its name. The choreography was certainly square dance-inspired. Throughout much of the piece there were couples dancing in a large circle-and like traditional square dances, the men passed their partners along the circle, do-si-doed with them, and promenaded. Also like real square dancing, the men sometimes danced as a group, then the women had their turn and danced as a group, and then couples danced as a group. Though their steps were much more graceful and clean than real square dancing (and their plain costumes certainly did not make me feel as though I were at a gathering in the country), there was a decidedly square dance feel to the piece.

Apparently, when this piece was first performed by the NYCB on November 21, 1957, it was even more true to its name. A traditional dance caller called out to the dancers just as he would have done at a real square dance. Because of the scale of this production, however, the vocals were eliminated-which is unfortunate. I think the vocals would have made the piece more interesting. And the piece could've used the added component. On its own, the piece did not engage me as much as I would've liked. There was no real climax. The two principle dancers were technically effective but they didn't seem as light on their feet as I have seen them perform in the past. All of the dancers, in fact, did not make their performances seem effortless, which I think is much of the beauty of ballet. I was left feeling good but not inspired.


Ballet: Square Dance
Choreographer: George Balanchine
Dancers: Yvonne Borre
Photo by Paul Kolnik

Opus 19/The Dreamer

Music by Sergei Prokofiev (Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major)
Choreography by Jerome Robbins
Costumes by Ben Benson
Lighting by Ronald Bates
Conductor: Maurice Kaplow
Violin: Kurt Nikkanen
Principle dancers: Jenifer Ringer and Peter Boal

This second piece of the afternoon I found much more inspiring than the first. As one might expect, the fluid choreography, lyrical music, flowing costumes, and dark lighting, created a dreamy environment. But as one might not expect, this dreaminess was punctuated with some jarring movements, flexed hands and feet, and even occasional flailing of the arms and legs. The "dreamer" seemed to be not entirely at rest. This made for an interesting and unpredictable piece. The choreography was both matched and enhanced by the delicate tones of the violin and the trilling flute.

A concurring opinion by Robert Abrams

Opus 19/The Dreamer was filled with very strong leaps and spins. The dancers gave themselves to the dance with a confident attack. There was sharp definition between movements, much like in high-level Latin dancing. In its simplest form, this definition is the attempt to make quicks quick and slows slow, in contrast to what tends to happen: where slows and quicks blend together. In ballet, of course, the movements are often supposed to blend together. The New York City Ballet repeatedly demonstrate that they are masters of a range of ballet styles, especially contemporary ballet, and this afternoon was no exception. Opus 19/The Dreamer, by itself, was worth the price of admission.

Agon

Music by Igor Stravinsky
Choreography by George Balanchine
Lighting by Mark Stanley
Conductor: Andrea Quinn
Principle dancers: Wendy Whelan, Jock Soto, Jennie Somogyi, and Sébastien Marcovici

A French dance manual from the mid-seventeenth century was the inspiration for Agon (The Contest). All of the dancers were energetic, bright, and light on their feet. Their movements, which included some snapping and clapping, were detailed and done with precision. One thing I found interesting about Agon was that most of the pieces within this dance ended quite abruptly. There consistently seemed to be a climax without the dénouement. This kept me at the edge of my seat. Most impressive was the pairing of Whelan and Soto. At certain points of their pas de deux, their arms and legs (particularly the very flexible limbs of Whelan) seemed to connect as one.

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