... 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.]
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[s] like a personal secret accidentally disclosed. It keeps you at a distance, though you may find yourself in tears.