Posted by Rebecca King on 01.25.2010
I have recently been reading Allegra Kent’s book “Once A Dancer“. Ms. Kent was well known for her interpretation of the role of the Sleepwalker. However, she did not originate this role. In fact, she fell in love with the ballet long before Balanchine would revive it for her in 1959. She saw the Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo perform Night Shadow in 1948 at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Hall. The performance also consisted of Gaite Parisienne, Swan Lake, and Scheherazade, none of which caught her interest quite like Night Shadow. The element of the ballet that intrigued her the most was the Sleepwalker’s exit: the woman carries the Poet off stage, walking slowly backward into the wing. This ending stunned her. She would always remember that moment.
Eleven years later, for New York City Ballet’s 1959 Winter Season, Balanchine revived this ballet, now entitled La Sonnambula. She describes her character, the sleepwalker, as a woman “who has a secret never explained.” The sleepwalker is not allowed to live her life, as her husband keeps her hidden high in a tower above the stage. But on this one evening, she descends to the masquerade ball; she has “escaped her imprisonment.” At the end of the Sleepwalker’s Pas De Deux with the Poet, he kisses her. This is “Sleeping Beauty Balanchine style.” She is not awoken by this kiss, but their love for each other is apparent. After the Poet is murdered, she mourns, yet does not awaken. Ms. Kent talks of the ending when the Sleepwalker carries off the Poet’s body saying, “It was really not difficult, because his whole weight was on my back and shoulders as he wrapped himself around me in a fireman’s lift.”
She spent a lot of time analyzing the role in order to determine how she would make it her own. She spent time at home listening to the music alone. ”In this role I had to develop a response during dialogue. In this role I had to develop my next dramatic idea on the music exactly as the conductor was playing it that night. My interpretation had to read across to the audience.” Her last mention of La Sonnambula in her book is powerful; “In real life, I was a sleepwalker- dance my only light.”