glebb

La Sonnambula

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I saw a lot of NYCB performances in the late 70s and most of the 80s, but only saw "La Sonnambula" once. I remember Stephanie Saland as The Coquette and Darci Kistler as The Sleepwalker, but I don't remember who danced the Poet. Could it have been Robbie LaFosse?

Since reading about "La Sonnambula" in "Henning Kronstam, Portrait of a Danish Dancer" I wish to see the ballet again.

I bet Ballet Alert members have some favorite casts.

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I had the same experience, Glebb, reading Alexandra's book -- what Kronstam had to say about performing that role really fired my imagination, made me LONG to see him perform it...

Similarly, the footage of Allegra Kent teaching the role to Darci Kistler (and some guy I can't remember) on "the Balanchine ballerinas" made me very hungry to see it.... The way the ballerina should be able to sense somehow that he's there, though she can't see him -- "It's like echolocation" -- opened up such poetic horizons....

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Ib Anderson was the Poet to Kistler's Sleepwalker in the Balanchine Muse film.

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Thanks, Mark and Paul. It's so nice to know that what he said about the Poet meant something. I could not find a complete film of Kronstam dancing that role, just snatches, and very much wish I could have seen the whole thing. (And I loved Vivi Flindt's story about drawing the ballet when she was a child and, even then, she knew that she was No Sleepwalker, and wanted to do the Coquette. If only we had more dancers so confident about what suits them and what does not....)

One thing I learned from the dancers who saw Kronstam is how much could be made of the scene where the Poet and the Coquette sit on the bench. Everyone mentioned that, and it wasn't overt acting, or scene stealing at all, just a drama played with the eyes and small gestures, but it was obvious that they were having a conversation, not just sitting there like two stones.

I saw Kent, at the end of her career. and admired her very much but don't have a clear enough memory now to write about it. I also saw Kirkland do this, twice, with ABT during her Second Troubled Phase. The first time was the way you'd imagine she'd do it, and the second one was monstrously, wonderfully wild. Over the top, but so crazy that it worked. She danced as though she were playing a game, moving as fast as possible in the hopes of plunging into the orchestra pit before the hapless Poet (Victor Barbee, who did not move an inch until it was "his" music) could catch her. It was quite exciting; she was, perhaps, the first Mrs. Rochester, locked up for a cause. But she was also made of air, not a body, but feet and head, with nothing between them save the nightgown.

There is a photo of Anna Laerkesen in the Kronstam book that makes me want to have seen her, too. The light has caught her nightgown, so that her body looks like a candle.

I saw Ib Andersen and Darci Kistler as well, and I liked him very much. I had the sense that he wasn't ideal for the role, and, at the same time, was the best Poet I'd seen. One gesture I remember particularly. At his entrance, when the Baron extends his hand, Andersen looked at him as though he had no idea what the gesture meant, and made a small bow. It set the whole ballet -- the Poet as someone so otherworldly that he did not undestand society's conventions, making him bait for both the Coquette AND the Sleepwalker.

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I have never seen La Sonnambula but, like glebb, I was so intrigued after reading Alexandra's discussion of Kronstam (and Kronstam's discussion of Kronstam!) in it. It doesn't appear to be on tape/DVD in any form, so I guess I have to try to find live performances somewhere. I have the music but without a performance memory to add to it, the music doesn't elicit much for me. (Go to Alexandra's book for a lovely little vignette of Kronstam's thanking his Sleepwalker - Anna Laerkesan, if I recall properly - after she has carried him into the wings at the end of the ballet. His manners were so elegant!)

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Mary J, there was a televised La Sonnambula (ABT, with Ferri and Baryshnikov). That's the only video I know about -- and, IMO, it's not ideal. (Baryshnikov was one of those who "thought it was like play.") It's not commercially available, as far as I know, but it might be available through your local public television station or library.

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It's known as Night Shadow in the UK. Sadly it hasn't been danced here for decades. The last performance I saw was Margot Fonteyn and John Gilpin.

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I'm surprised that a discussion of La Sonnambula has gone on so long here without mention of Nikolaj Hubbe's Poet. He is so magnificently, wildly in love with the idea of being in love, and dangerous, risky love for the unattainable at that, we can see exactly why he's drawn to the toxic Coquette, and even more so to the Sleepwalker, no less a femme fatale for being a femme dormant.

There is a great tradition of ballet heroes who approach romance without thinking with their heads, although whether the deciding organs are their hearts is a matter for unending, and usually amusing, debate.

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Hubbe is indeed a fantastically expressive dancer -- hiw James is THAT WAY, too... I wish i'd seen him do this role....

I wish Helgi would get Sonnambula for SFB...... We have the dancers for it, and it would give them something WORTHY to do..... That kind of ballet goes straight to the heart of he matter, and dancers realize them selves before our eyes in presenting such creatures...

Mashinka, would you please say more about your memory of Fonteyn and Gilpin -- obviously it was a while ago, GIlpin, for heaven's sake! But what is your impression of them? I'd LOVE to know.....

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Yes, as you say a long time ago, a good thirty years and I can't remember too much, though I think it was a one off with Fonteyn guesting with Festival (now ENB) Ballet, possibly a fund-rasing performance. I'm racking my brains but can't remember the other lady in the cast. Gilpin was wonderful, the best dance-actor Britain ever produced, confused and driven as the poet. Fonteyn seemed serene and compassionate and slightly spooky when she carries him off to her tower.

That's about it I'm afraid. I'd love to see it again, also Bouree Fantasque once in Festival/ENB rep too but now sadly a misty memory as well. Who says Balanchine wasn't a diverse talent?

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Quoting Alexandra talking about Kronstam in La Sonnambula..

"it was obvious that they were having a conversation, not just sitting there like two stones"

In the original production (Night Shadow) Maria Tallchief (the coquette) and Nicholas Magallanes (the poet) were quite animated as they sat on the bench---I know, because for many performances while group dancing was going on center stage, my eyes were riveted to the two principles sitting in the background. Especially Tallchief, playing with that fan! But the ideal sleepwalker was still a few years away--I always felt the ballet was waiting for Allegra Kent.

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Atm, I think that the bench conversation was one of the things that got lost through the years. I'd bet the original divertissement people were strong enough, too, so that the conversation wasn't a distraction.

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I suspect that the Coquette in the Gipin/Fonteyn cast for Night Shadow was Margot Miklosy - at least that's my recollection. I think there were two or three performances at what used to be Wyndham's Theatre in St Martin's Lane.

Donald Albery was managing the company at that time, and his father, Bronson Albery, either owned or managed the theatre at that time hence the company was able to appear there when there was a gap between plays.

The third generation of the Albery family, Ian, was manager of Sadler's Wells theatre immediately prior to and during its rebuilding. He it was who has finally established the Wells as such an important dance house in London. (Sorry. I've wandered way off topic)

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I just loved Alexandra's description of Kirkland as the sleepwalker. How I wish I had seen that second version! Thinking about that it would be great to see a "first Mrs. Rochester" interpretation---it would make a lot of sense---who knows how long that poor girl was up in that tower?--and for good measure, have Hugh Laing as the poet!

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Mary J, there was a televised La Sonnambula (ABT, with Ferri and Baryshnikov). That's the only video I know about -- and, IMO, it's not ideal. (Baryshnikov was one of those who "thought it was like play.") It's not commercially available, as far as I know, but it might be available through your local public television station or library.

I came across the vid today and watching it, I really really enjoyed it. I haven't managed to see any of the others mentioned in this thread, though.

http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XOTg0OTgwMTI=.html

thx

-goro-

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Atm, I think that the bench conversation was one of the things that got lost through the years. I'd bet the original divertissement people were strong enough, too, so that the conversation wasn't a distraction.

I can't say if its the same as the conversations of the past, but I recall Peter Boal and Jenifer Ringer (I think) engaging in "conversation" on the bench several years back. I found it more interesting than the dancing in front of it.

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I saw a lot of NYCB performances in the late 70s and most of the 80s, but only saw "La Sonnambula" once. I remember Stephanie Saland as The Coquette and Darci Kistler as The Sleepwalker, ...
I saw this cast, among several others, and while Saland was a sly and seductive Coquette and Kistler an innocent Sleepwalker, the balance was off. Darci was unable to shake off her innate, sunny openness, which leaves the audience wondering about the poet's fascination with her, since the Coquette was so much more mysterious.

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... At his entrance, when the Baron extends his hand, Andersen looked at him as though he had no idea what the gesture meant, and made a small bow. It set the whole ballet -- the Poet as someone so otherworldly that he did not understand society's conventions, making him bait for both the Coquette AND the Sleepwalker.

I do remember this from the Balanchine years at NYCB, although I don't remember clearly who the Poet was (I may have seen more than one). Plainly, the Poet was not of the same world as the guests, with their fussy footwork to the stuttering, dotted rhythms of the music in that scene.

This moment - contrasting what we had just seen - does set the whole ballet; and the first Poet was having trouble with the role: In May 2000, Frederic Franklin recalled that, in 1946,

In La Sonnambula, I was working on a narrative ballet. I was a poet. "You come on; you fall in love." That was [how Balanchine] explained it. Not why I was there, what was [going on]. And I would ask him, and he'd say, "No, you were not invited. You just arrive." That sort of thing. And that's when I had the idea [that I came to the Baron's party] because I was linked to the entertainers.

But, I think with their results, what came out of both [him and Massine] you couldn't say it was not right. It was right the way they worked, and dancers had to get used to it. ...

[This is from the extensive - 60 hours! - interviews of him conducted then and now transcribed, available at the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center. The second paragraph is interesting because it, together with the subtext of the first paragraph, says a lot about the essential difference between the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, for which Balanchine worked briefly, and his own New York City Ballet of a couple of years later, particularly with regard to their different emphases on characterization, narrative, and so on. But this a digression.]

Alexandra continued,

I think that the bench conversation was one of the things that got lost through the years. I'd bet the original divertissement people were strong enough, too, so that the conversation wasn't a distraction.

I well remember from the Balanchine years at NYCB how the planes of action in the divertissement were adjusted, calibrated, so that the dances downstage were only so interesting, not more, and the "conversation" upstage - behind the arcade at the back - went on discontinuously, with interruptions when the two themselves paid attention to those dances.

I do remember Kent's Sleepwalker barreling out of the bottom of the tower like gangbusters, taking long steps on point, hurrying across the stage, coming downstage as though she might wind up in the pit, crossing it again, as on a mission, looking for something; and then in her later appearance, circling the stage with that intensity more contained, looking for something she knew was there now, she sensed was there, not looking down but encountering the Poet's body, and screaming (arching back with open mouth). Strange, remote, and powerfully affecting.

As Croce put it

...the real suffering we've witnessed seem like a personal secret accidentally disclosed. It keeps you at a distance, though you may find yourself in tears.

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Jack, you are really helping to prepare me to see Sonnambula next weekend. Thank you.

I do remember Kent's Sleepwalker barreling out of the bottom of the tower like gangbusters, taking long steps on point, hurrying across the stage, coming downstage as though she might wind up in the pit, crossing it again, as on a mission, looking for something; and then in her later appearance, circling the stage with that intensity more contained, looking for something she knew was there now, she sensed was there, not looking down but encountering the Poet's body, and screaming (arching back with open mouth). Strange, remote, and powerfully affecting.

I do remember Kent conveying this. In fact, it is my strongest visual memory of those performances so lnog ago. Your description supports the coaching suggestions she gave to the Miami dancers in 2004 or 05, referred to on our concurrent thread on the MCB thread. Alas, it is rarely performed -- anywhere --with such febrile intensity.

Now that I think of it, this kind of intensity is a perfect contrast to the strange calmness that comes over the Sleep Walker as she receives the body of the dead Poet and departs with him to her tower. Maybe her entrance is an act of desperate seeking. And her exit is a signal that she has found what she was looking for.

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You're welcome, of course, bart, but as the hour is late and we have another thread or two going on the current MCB run of this, I'll just say here that I hope you still want to thank me after you've seen their production.

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Miami City Ballet dancer Rebecca King has posted an interview with Jennifer Lauren on her dancer's blog. Lauren, an MCB soloist, discusses some of the elements involved in preparing for the role of the Sleep Walker.

http://tendusunderap...leepwalker.html

I was especially interested in Lauren's experience working with Allegra Kent earlier in the season. Here's a sample:

"Your arms and feet are your feelers." The dancer should not appear to be seeing through her eyes, so she uses her extremities to find her way. Her arms are never by her side, but always extended as if searching for something. When the Sleepwalker first enters, she is feeling more "guarded" so she holds her arms further away from her not allowing the Poet into her aura. As she begins to feel more comfortable she brings her arms in more, closing the space between her and her suitor.

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