Apollo, Orpheus, and Agon are George Balanchine‘s Greek Trilogy. With music composed by Igor Stravinsky, these dances transformed the dance world.
Apollo Musagete (Apollo and the Muses), the first of the trilogy, was premiered in 1928 in Paris produced by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. It was said to be the original neoclassic ballet. In this dance, costumes and sets were kept minimum, and the dance was focused on the beauty of the movements themselves. The second piece Orpheus had a mystical feel to it as if the characters were crossing a mystical path. The third dance Agon had the most modern and intricate movements.
So how exactly are the movements of this trilogy different from the classical performances seen in Paris and the controversial pieces such as The Rite of Spring choreographed by Nijinsky?
Compared to Nijinsky’s approach of “landing like a goat”, Balanchine still retained the lightness of classical ballet. There were still flowy and graceful movements in the dances, especially in the pointed feet and classical positioning of the arms. The costumes of the trilogy were much simpler than the grandiloquent masterpieces of Nijinsky. However, the two dances did resemble each other when it came to the characters. While The Rite of Spring had many characters of monsters, the trilogy had abstract supernatural characters. The difference was that Balanchine emphasized the abstract shapes, ideas and feelings of the dances, while Nijinsky displayed the characteristics of the beasts in their natural states. Another point to notice is that both of the choreographers put more spotlights on the male characters than in the conventional ballets at the time.
The trilogy was built on classical movements but had a twist in style. The dancers stayed more grounded and sometimes distorted the torsos. Some signature movements constantly appearing in Balanchine’s choreographies were the hip isolations including the extrusion and the tango twists, the spin and lean towards the floor position held by another dancer, and the jazzy pas de bourree. There were much more bent legs, flexed or parallel feet and floor movements. Dances physically twine with each other, making interesting shapes, but the expressions on their faces interact more with the audience than the works of other choreographers at the time. Sometimes the feet would even point straight towards the audience. Despite all that, the arms remained relatively classical and flowy most of the time.
A lot of times dancers leaned on each other to make interesting shapes. The typical roles of male and female were not definite. Because the two genders dressed more similarly, the dances were more about utilizing every body available to create a unified look. Unlike the classical ballet with pas de deux, this trilogy had a lot more instances where there was one dance of one gender and several for the other.
(Balanchine’s Greek Trilogy in three parts)
Anderson, Jack. “A Greek Trilogy of Gods and Balanchine.” City Ballet Review. The New York Times, 29 Jan. 2005. Web. 6 Nov. 2016.