New York City: On March 14, 2022, in the New York City Ballet studios at the Rose Building, Lincoln Center, New York, former NYCB principal dancers Allegra Kent and Bart Cook were recorded coaching NYCB artists Mira Nadon and Davide Riccardo in the groundbreaking pas de deux of the 1957 ballet Agon.
Agon, is a seminal ballet, a signature New York City Ballet work recognized throughout the world as an enduring masterpiece. At its premiere, Marcel Duchamp, the painter, said he felt the same way about Agon as he had after attending the 1913 opening of Le Sacre du Printemps in Paris, at which Stravinsky’s explosive score and Nijinsky’s avant-garde choreography caused a scandal and a sensation with reverberations that continue to this day. New York Herald Tribune’s Walter Terry wrote of Agon’s opening performance, “For sheer invention, for intensive exploitation of the human body and the designs which it can create, Agon is quite possibly the most brilliant ballet creation of our day.” Balanchine uncharacteristically took pride in this 20-minute ballet saying, “Agon is for me the quintessential contemporary ballet. Stravinsky composed it specially for us … In my opinion, it is his – it is our – most perfect work, representing a total collaboration between musician and choreographer.”
Allegra Kent, NYCB ballerina (1953-1982), alternated as Arthur Mitchell’s partner in Agon with the role’s originator Diana Adams almost immediately after the ballet’s premiere. Five years later, during NYCB’s historic 1962 Soviet Union tour, Kent and Arthur Mitchell introduced this intensely foreign piece to the Soviets. Kent became an instant audience favorite, likened by critics and fans to Galina Ulanova, the reigning Russian prima ballerina. Kent performed Agon until 1978, when Balanchine chose Bart Cook, a dancer known for his tactile sensitivity and musicality, to partner Kent for her final appearances in the ballet.
Paul Boos, Director of the Video Archives, oversaw the filming with Founding Director Nancy Reynolds. NYCB solo pianist Nancy McDill accompanied the session, which ended with Kent and Cook being interviewed by writer Claudia Roth Pierpont.
The GBF Video Archives document the insights of dancers, often principals from original casts or those who worked closely with Balanchine. The Archives mission is to preserve this knowledge and pass it on to today's dancers, scholars, and audiences. The Archives are available world-wide through public and university libraries. In addition, the interview components can be accessed on the Balanchine Foundation's You Tube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/blnchn).
ALLEGRA KENT studied ballet with Bronislava Nijinska and Carmelita Maracci in Los Angeles. She joined the NYCB as an apprentice in 1952, and soon thereafter George Balanchine created a principal role for her in the "Unanswered Question" section of Ivesiana. In 1957 she was promoted to principal dancer, performing a varied repertory of ballets. In addition to Ivesiana, Balanchine created roles for her in Stars and Stripes, The Seven Deadly Sins, Episodes, Bugaku, and Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet. She was also in the original casts of Robbins's Dances at a Gathering and Dumbarton Oaks. For the GBF Video Archives she has coached leading roles in Bugaku, La Sonnambula, Stars and Stripes, Ivesiana and Episodes with Bart Cook. Kent is the author of Allegra Kent's Water Beauty Book (1976), her autobiography Once a Dancer... (1997), and her most recent children’s book Grand Jeté and Me (2021).
BART COOK, NYCB principal dancer, choreographer and ballet master, began his dance studies with Willam Christensen in Utah and at 17 transferred as a scholarship student to The School of American Ballet in NYC. Two years later Cook joined NYCB and in 1979 was promoted to principal dancer. Shortly thereafter NYCB appointed Cook Assistant Ballet Master to Jerome Robbins. Cook excelled in Balanchine's "black and white" leotard ballets. In addition, his interpretations of Balanchine's romantic protagonists were as natural a fit as were those of his character and demi-character roles. In 1993 Cook retired from dancing. He has staged Balanchine and Robbins ballets for over thirty years for a wide range of companies including The Royal Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, La Scala Opera, and San Francisco Ballet. Cook has been recorded coaching "Melancholic" from Four Temperaments, the "Sarabande" from Square Dance, A Midsummer Night’s Dream Titania and Bottom pas de deux and Episodes with Allegra Kent for the Balanchine Foundation's Video Archives.
MIRA NADON began her ballet training in Montclair, California and in 2014 and 2015 attended summer courses at the School of American Ballet (SAB) before entering SAB full-time. In 2017, Ms. Nadon became an apprentice with NYCB and as an apprentice she originated a corps role in Gianna Reisen’s Judah. Since joining NYCB’s corps de ballet in 2018, she has been featured in Balanchine’s Monumentum/Movements, Scotch Symphony, Raymonda Variations and Rubies. She was promoted to the rank of soloist in January 2022.
DAVIDE RICCARDO is a member of New York City Ballet’s corps de ballet. He was born in Messina, Italy and began his dance training there as a pupil of Emma Prioli. In 2012, he began training at the Rome Opera Ballet School. Mr. Riccardo entered SAB as a full-time student in 2015. In 2018, he became an apprentice with NYCB, and joined the company in 2019. In 2018, as a student at SAB, Mr. Riccardo received the Mae L. Wien Award for Outstanding Promise and the Lincoln Center Award for Emerging Artists.
CLAUDIA ROTH PIERPONT is a staff writer for The New Yorker, where she has written about the arts for more than twenty years. She is the author of three books: Passionate Minds (2000), a collection of essays about women writers ranging from Hannah Arendt to Mae West; Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books (2013), an exploration of the life and work of Philip Roth; and American Rhapsody (2016), a collection of essays on American subjects including George Gershwin, Nina Simone, and the Chrysler Building. She is currently working on a history of New York culture that will include a chapter on New York City Ballet.
NANCY REYNOLDS, a former dancer with New York City Ballet, has been Director of Research for The George Balanchine Foundation since 1994, when she conceived the Video Archives program. Among her books are Repertory in Review: Forty Years of the New York City Ballet; No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century (co-authored with Malcolm McCormick); and Remembering Lincoln. In 2013 she received a “Bessie” award for “outstanding service to the field of dance.”
PAUL BOOS, Director of the Video Archives since 2021, is a former dancer with NYCB and répétiteur for the George Balanchine Trust. His work for the Trust has been presented at several theaters, including the Maryinsky, Bolshoi, Paris Opera, La Scala, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Boston Ballet. He also guest teaches abroad and locally.
The George Balanchine Foundation (www.balanchine.org) is a not-for-profit corporation established in 1983. Its mission is to create programs that educate the public and further Balanchine's work and aesthetic with the goal of advancing high standards of excellence in dance and its allied arts. Among the Foundation’s initiatives are the Video Archives (https://balanchine.org/03/gbfvideoarchives.html), in which dancers who worked closely with Balanchine teach and coach their roles with dancers of today (Interpreters Archive) or recreate excerpts of Balanchine ballets that are rarely performed and in danger of disappearing (Archive of Lost Choreography). Legendary dancers who have taken part in this project include Alicia Alonso, Jacques d’Amboise, Suzanne Farrell, Frederic Franklin, Melissa Hayden, Allegra Kent, Alicia Markova, Peter Martins, Patricia McBride, Maria Tallchief, Violette Verdy, Edward Villella, and Patricia Wilde, working with leading dancers from such companies as New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, among others.
In 2007 the Foundation announced the completion of a major initiative, the online publication of the Balanchine Catalogue, a fully searchable database giving first-performance details of all known dances created by Balanchine, supplemented by lists of companies staging the ballets, a database of roles Balanchine performed, and additional related materials (https://balanchine.org/03/balanchinecatalogue.html). The project was made possible by a leadership grant from The Jerome Robbins Foundation.