Once a Dancer: Allegra Kent

Once a Dancer: Allegra Kent

She became a professional ballerina in a matter of 5 years, remained the prima ballerina of New York City Ballet for 30 years and was the major muse of Balanchine - read our article about gorgeous Allegra Kent.

Allegra Kent (at birth Iris Margo Cohen) was born on August 11, 1937, in Santa Monica to a Jewish family that moved from one place to another a lot because her father was always looking for a job. Later, Kent described the environment in which she spent the first years of her life as dysfunctional - she was often ashamed of her parents and that eternal feeling of being an emigrant. The girl found a distraction in the world of music and dance, but flat feet didn’t allow her to practice classical ballet, which she later managed to fix with the help of special shoe inserts that gave her arches. 

First steps and triumph

When Allegra was 11 years old, she settled in Los Angeles with her mother and brother, where, on her own initiative, began to take ballet lessons from Bronislava Nijinska, the sister of Vaslav Nijinsky, and the Spanish dancer Carmelita Maracci.

In just four years, the persistent student achieved such a high level that at the age of 14, when already in New York, she received a scholarship from the School of American Ballet, and a year later, in 1953, she was admitted to the New York City Ballet (NYCB). The head of the company, George Balanchine, was delighted with the talent of the young dancer, and in 1954 he staged Ivesiana especially for Kent and in 1957 promoted her to a principal.

At the insistence of her mother, Allegra left the New York City Ballet for a short time, but upon her return she immediately received the status of a prima ballerina and the leading roles in Swan Lake, The Seven Deadly Sins and Stars and Stripes. Later, Balanchine created many of his productions especially for his major muse. 

In 1958, Kent appeared in the TV series Playhouse 90. In The Nutcracker episode, which was a video version of Balanchine's ballet of the same name, the ballerina danced the role of Dewdrop and the choreographer himself performed the part of Drosselmeyer. This production is very different from the version of The Nutcracker, which is familiar to the Russian audience, in that the main roles are played by children and the complex parts are danced by secondary characters - adults. 

Successes and failures

Despite being in high demand, Allegra Kent didn’t sacrifice personal happiness and motherhood. In 1959, she married the most popular photographer of her time, the star of advertising photography, Bert Stern. In this marriage, she had three children, each time returning to the stage after the maternity leave.

Between pregnancies, she danced in Balanchine's ballet La Sonnambula and in 1962 won over the Russian audience while touring the USSR. The ballet Agon, in which she danced with Arthur Mitchell, received controversial reviews from the Soviet critics, but they highly appreciated the couple of American dancers and the audience honored them with a long standing ovation.

As for the personal life, it turned out less successfully: the first marriage fell apart in 10 years - the addiction of the bohemian photographer to drugs was stronger than his feelings. 

Not only dance

Kent remained the prima ballerina of New York City Ballet for 30 years. In 1981, she left the company but continued to work as a teacher. In the same year, the ballerina married director Aram Avakyan, but became a widow soon. Allegra Kent found personal happiness only in 1992 in her third marriage. 

At the age of 50, Balanchine's main prima ballerina returned to the stage in John Clifford's ballet Notturno, and critics praised her sensual expressiveness and sophistication again as they used to. 

In 1997, Kern published her autobiography, Once a Dancer, and in 2012, she published a children's book, Ballerina Swan, which was later adapted to become a dance performance by the New York Children's Theater. 

To this day, Balanchine's main prima ballerina teaches ballet at Barnard College and publishes articles on ballet.