Sunday morning, November 15, 11–11:50 CST

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Balanchine

Maeve Sterbenz (Wellesley College), Chair

Stravinsky and Balanchine’s Agon: A Laban Movement Analysis of the Music and Dance

Jacob Fitzpatrick (Saint Paul, MN)

Jacob Fitzpatrick holds a PhD in music theory from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He completed his dissertation Stravinsky, Balanchine and Agon: An Intersection of Musical Movement and Dance in 2020 and under the supervision of Brian Hyer. He currently serves on the theory development committee for the Minnesota Music Teachers Association, and teaches piano and theory in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Fitzpatrick graduated with distinction in dance from St. Olaf College and has danced with the Metropolitan Ballet, Ballet Co Laboratory, St. Paul Ballet, and Ethnic Dance Theatre. He further trained at the Paul Taylor School (New York) and Zenon School (Minneapolis).

Abstract

Agon (1957) is a ballet with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by George Balanchine. Since Agon is as an interdisciplinary, domain-crossing work, one concern is how to address the aural domain of the music and the visual domain of the dance. We also want to address these domains in a way that forms meaningful connections. This paper suggests one such link between music and dance is the concept of movement. While we can describe movement in any number of ways, I use Laban Movement Analysis (LMA). For the purposes of linking music and dance, LMA is particularly powerful because its branch of effort addresses not the bodily or spatial patterns of movement, but rather the qualitative ones.

As a case study, this paper focuses on a single dance from Agon, the Saraband Step. The first section considers the notion of music as movement. The second section introduces LMA, focuses on the four motion factors attributed to effort (weight, time, space, and flow), and explains how we can hear these elements. Finally, the third section invites us to see and hear how these motion factors interact in a dance. Ultimately, this approach can create a rich listening and viewing experience.

Swingin’ Bach in Ballet: Motivic Development and Funky Rhythms in Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco (1941)

Kara Yoo Leaman (Oberlin College & Conservatory)

Kara Yoo Leaman is an Assistant Professor of Music Theory and Aural Skills at Oberlin College Conservatory and a co-founder of the Dance and Movement Interest Group of the Society for Music Theory. She was the 2019-2020 Fellow for the Study of Russia and Ballet at The Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University, a joint fellowship with NYU's Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia. Leaman holds degrees from Harvard University, Queen’s College, CUNY, and Yale University, where her dissertation was awarded the Theron Rockwell Field Prize in 2017. Her research on Balanchine will be featured in an upcoming special issue devoted to dance research in the Journal of Music Theory.

Abstract

There is an iconic passage near the end of Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco (1941), set to J. S. Bach’s Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins (BWV 1043), in which ten female dancers hop on pointe, first in unison and then in two groups, creating an exciting pattern of visual accents syncopated against the music. This is the climax of a “plotless” ballet that is, nonetheless, about music and movement. To date, the relationship between dance and music in Balanchine’s choreography has been studied primarily through the phenomenological lens used in dance studies, wherein dance is understood to be the communication of feeling through symbolic forms. However, in Balanchine’s plotless ballet, dance communicates musical ideas rather than feelings.

In this paper, I analyze Balanchine’s choreography as patterns of rhythms and shapes. Using annotated videos and choreomusical notation, I show how the choreography features motivic development and funky rhythms, reflecting both Bach’s compositional strategy of inventio and 1920s–30s jazz musicians’ practice of “swingin’ the classics.” Starting with a close look at the climax, where a cross-modal echo intensifies the audiovisual effect, I widen the lens to trace choreographic and musical elements of that climax in inter-movement motivic connections. In Barocco, Balanchine interacts with Bach’s score and jazz-music practice not through drama or narrative but through patterns of time and space. This paper contributes to research in music embodiment and multimedia perception, offering a case study that moves beyond binary determinations of cross-modal congruence or incongruence to analyses of interactions in documented patterns.

Rhythm and Meter in Dance as Bergsonian durée

Amy Ming Wai Tai (Yale University)

Abstract

Dancers use rhythmic and metric concepts differently from musicians, and these concepts are often ill-defined in dance-music research. Henri Bergson’s philosophy of time, memory, and movement provides a gateway for more nuanced explanations of rhythmic and metric concepts in dance-music analysis. In dance, it forms the philosophical basis for much recent research, as is reflected in how dancers describe their visual and physical experience of rhythm and meter. In music, it has inspired Christopher Hasty’s and Victor Zuckerkandl’s rhythmic and metric theories based on motion and processual experience.

Building on Hasty and Zuckerkandl, this paper first frames rhythm and meter in twentieth-century dance writings in Bergsonian terms. A dance step does not have a discrete beginning or ending, and encompasses memories and potentials, for the body’s position is both the result of the previous movement and the preparation for the next. As such, the dancer’s view of rhythm and meter can be conceptualized as Bergson’s durée: a continuous flow of states that melt into one another with indeterminate boundaries, as memory prolongs itself into the present and becomes potential for the future. The paper then uses durée to explicate rhythmic and metric concepts in dance-music analysis, such as accent, phrase, and durational unit, and applies them to an analysis of A Sweet Spell of Oblivion choreographed by David Dawson. A Bergsonian understanding of these concepts reveals subtleties in choreography that might otherwise escape notice, and enriches musicians with a visual and kinesthetic understanding of Hasty’s and Zuckerkandl’s theories.