In 1957, George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky, his fellow Russian émigré, astonished audiences with their revolutionary ballet Agon* for New York City Ballet.
Agon‘s score combined French Renaissance dance melodies and twelve-tone invention. Its diverse cast wore simple black-and-white practice clothes and performed with unadorned clarity on a spare stage. Through these features, Agon lay bare the tensions of the civil rights movement, the struggles for gender equality, and the anxiety of the Cold War era.
Balanchine ballerina Heather Watts (CBA ’14), puts this masterwork of abstraction in the context of its time and ours, in a one hour rehearsal style lecture-demonstration focusing on the central pas de deux, featuring Unity Phelan and Calvin Royal III.
Unity Phelan trained at the Princeton Ballet School, and at the School of American Ballet in New York City. She joined the New York City Ballet in 2013, and in February 2017 she was promoted to the rank of soloist.
Calvin Royal III trained in St. Petersburg, FL, and at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in New York City. He joined American Ballet Theatre’s second company in 2007, and became a member of the main company in 2011. Calvin was promoted to the rank of soloist in September 2017.
Heather Watts joined New York City Ballet in 1970, and was one of the last of the famed Balanchine ballerinas. Watts worked closely with Balanchine and Jerome Robbins at NYCB, retiring from the stage in 1995. She has been a contributing editor at Vanity Fair since 1995, has created academic courses on Balanchine’s life and work at Harvard University, was a visiting Lecturer in Dance at Princeton University, and has led residencies at UC Santa Barbara. Watts was a fellow at the Center for Ballet and the Arts at NYU in 2014 and is currently an affiliate fellow there. She has received numerous awards, including a Doctorate honoris causa from Hunter College.
Heather Watts and Mel Tomlinson in Agon
Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust
Photo © Steven Caras