Allegra Kent: This ballerina is a poet too

July 13, 2010






“He knew how to send his ballerinas up like rockets, one after another, higher and higher.” You probably already guessed which choreographer that’s about. Yes, it’s Balanchine. But can you guess who wrote it? Allegra Kent, who knows how to send her words up like rockets—rockets of poetry and visceral knowledge of dance. If you haven’t read her autobiography, Once a Dancer, now is the time. It came out in paperback last fall, and well, it’s summer now. In the book, Kent talks about watching Balanchine dance and seeing that “dance was a revelation of his thoughts. You could read his mind by watching him move.” She got so much from him artistically, emotionally.


The highpoints of her professional life were when Balanchine made or revived a ballet for her. He could illuminate her special blend of delicacy and brashness, sexuality and innocence. These were giddy moments, but it never lasted long. She loved dance, it was her freedom and delight, so why couldn’t she just stick with it? It’s painful to read the pages where Kent had such debilitating self doubt that she made bad decisions. Her mother’s Christian Science belief system was a wobbly foundation for life decisions.  And yet at the end of the book, she seems to forgive her mother, recognizing a restless soul similar to her own. Both loved experimenting in life, with children along, rather than settling in one place. The book has delicious descriptions of Violette Verdy, Robert Blankshine, Felia Doubrovska, and the mountain goat—that last is Allegra herself. Or at least it’s how she felt herself to be when she first came from the outdoors to ballet class. 


Although an ocean-loving nature girl, Iris (her given name) instantly fell in love with ballet—and it fell in love with her. Why was she such a legend? Why is it that everyone who saw Allegra Kent dance talks about her dancing many years later? And why did Balanchine keep her on the payroll even though she only performed once a year? Maybe a clue is in this thought: “When I danced, I always tried to touch something elusive or sublime, and sometimes it worked.” In describing dance, she does touch the sublime. She’s brilliant at describing how the way she feels affects the way she dances. I recommend the book, which is published by University Press of Florida. Allegra Kent is an enchanting creature, whether dancing or writing (or leaving voicemail messages, I happen to know).