Russian duet: ‘Agon’ and ‘Spartacus’

Fort Worth Star Telegram , TX
April 9, 2004

Russian duet

Ballet Arlington gets historical with contrasting ‘Agon’ and

By Wayne Lee Gay
Star-Telegram Dance Critic

Both ballets were choreographed by Russians, both are accompanied by
music by Russian or Soviet composers, and both were inspired by
historical material. But George Balanchine’s Agon will offer a
striking contrast to Yuri Grigorovich’s Spartacus when the two are
presented by Ballet Arlington on the same evening at Bass Performance

Each will be staged by a protege of the ballet’s creator. Paul Mejia,
Ballet Arlington’s co-artistic director, studied closely with and
danced for Balanchine at New York City Ballet, performing in Agon on
numerous occasions. Similarly, the other Ballet Arlington
co-director, Alexander Vetrov, who will stage Spartacus, learned the
piece under Grigorovich at the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, dancing the
role of Spartacus’ nemesis, Crassus.

“It was a new kind of ballet,” Mejia says of Agon, which premiered in
New York in 1957. Its Greek title can mean contest, protagonist or
agony; the music, by Igor Stravinsky, was inspired by various French
court dances of the 17th century.

The inspiration may have been from a past era, but the result is
stunningly modern; almost half a century after its creation, Agon,
with its consuming abstract athleticism, continues to influence
choreographers, while the score remains a paragon of lean,
intellectual neo-classicism.

“Dancing Agon changes a dancer,” Mejia says. “If you dance it and
dance it well, you’ve accomplished something.”

Spartacus, meanwhile, premiered in Russia in 1968, with Armenian-born
composer Aram Khachaturian’s soaring, melodic score accompanying. The
full-length version takes about 80 dancers several hours to perform;
Ballet Arlington will present an abbreviated selection of excerpts,
using costumes borrowed from the Bolshoi.

The story of a gladiator/slave who leads a rebellion against the
ancient Roman Empire is familiar to American movie buffs thanks to
Hollywood’s epic take on the tale, starring Kirk Douglas; the film
inspired Grigorovich to challenge not only the principals but the
dancers in the corps with tremendous emotional and technical hurdles.
“Every dancer has lots to do,” Vetrov says.

Ballet Arlington has reached its current high level thanks in large
part to some rigorously trained dancers from Russia and other former
Soviet republics; several of them will perform principal roles in
Spartacus. Along with Vetrov’s portrayal of the Roman leader Crassus,
the cast will include Anatoly Emelianov in the title role, Olga
Pavlova as Crassus’ concubine Aegina and Marina Goshko as Spartacus’
beloved Phrygia.

“Spartacus needed something strong to go with it,” Mejia says. “Agon
makes a wonderful contrast. The music sounds completely different,
and the ballets will look completely different.”

Ballet Arlington
8 p.m. Tuesday
Bass Performance Hall
Fort Worth $10-$28
(817) 212-4280;
(817) 465-4644