Dreamweaver: My Notes from Allegra's Coaching Season
By Jennifer Kronenberg
Allegra was only in Miami for three days, but what an impact she made! She gave me so much to think about, and I wrote down most of what she said. But I learned more, not by listening to her, but by watching her actually become the Sleepwalker while she was trying to explain herself. When she showed the runs en pointe, she nearly ran herself right into the wall to emphasize the kind of momentum that Balanchine had wanted her to have. As she showed the walks, with her arm outstretched as if holding the candle, you could almost see the electricity or “sonar pulses” radiating from her chest, fingertips, and feet. Her whole body was connected in each step. She never actually danced, per se, but was more concerned with conveying the character/mood to us.
Doing it myself was a different story, but at least I had those images of her in my head. Here are some things she discussed:
n The beginning walks coming out of the tower should be very upright and have a sense of urgency. They should not turn into bourrées, but into runs en pointe, and the audience should think you might run right off the end of the stage.
-The extended arm should act as your sensory tool, like bug antennae, always alive down to the ends of the fingertips.
-Use the candle to guide you, not too high; it should be an extension of your heart.
-You are asleep, but very aware, and you should portray a sense of yearning to the audience.
-The flat walks should not be “ballet” walks; rather the feet should slide along the ground, sensing and feeling where to go.
-The Poet is, in a sense, manipulating the Sleepwalker, and she, for the most part, is enjoying it.
-Have a “floating” sensation, no bobbles up and down, head should stay on the same plane at all times.
-Side arm should have movement and float with the breeze, not too stiff.
-Exit with a sense of yearning, wanting, almost asking him to follow you.
-The audience must believe that you know what is happening, even though you are asleep. This could be your dream.
-If the pas de deux was the dream, the Poet’s death is your nightmare.
-Drift into the doorway as if you had just materialized there.
-Walk a very big circle, knowing what you are about to find, searching for the Poet.
-When your foot touches his body, let your terror register to the audience.
-Melt with the contraction like you’ve just been stabbed and the pain is too great to bear.
-The head roll is your scream.
-Walk forward with great sadness, crying inside.
-Must be subtle.
-During the whole ballet you have extrasensory perception, as if following sonar, or echolocation like bats.
The first time I felt I could apply Allegra’s corrections was in the dress rehearsal. The costumes, sets, and lighting made a world of difference, and it all became very real. The opening night I was disappointed, excited, happy, relieved, and exhausted all at the same time, and I completely broke down after the show. After about the third performance I realized that I would never have the same feeling twice dancing this role. (I experienced that with Giselle as well.) I learned something new each time. Some days the bourrées were harder than others, sometimes the boys didn’t place the Poet in just the right position in my arms, and I thought I might not be able to walk off with him.
Dancing this role with my fiancé, Carlos Guerra, as the Poet added a whole new dimension. There is a lot less “acting” when the romantic feelings are naturally there. The kiss at the end of the pas de deux becomes a more realistically passionate and tender moment when the couple is really in love. The horror of the death scene was more realistic as well. I thought, “What if this were real?” The feeling of sadness gets down to the core, instead of just skimming the surface.
Jennifer Kronenberg, who studied at the School of American Ballet before joining Miami City Ballet in 1994, is a principal dancer.