Title: Diana Vishneva's Next Stage
Author: JOEL LOBENTHAL
Date: February 11, 2008
Publisher: The New York Sun
At 31, Russian ballerina Diana Vishneva has already lived several artistic lives. After graduating from St. Petersburg's Vaganova Ballet Academy in 1995, she joined the Kirov Ballet and was almost immediately acclaimed as a new star. Since then she has triumphed all over the world, as a dancer with the Kirov Ballet, and as a guest with many companies, including Milan's La Scala Ballet, Berlin's Staatsballett, the Paris Opera Ballet, and Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet. She first danced with American Ballet Theatre in 2003, and since 2005 she has been appearing annually with the company during its spring seasons at the Metropolitan Opera. She enjoys a freedom granted to no more than a handful of ballet or opera performers on the Kirov roster.
Next week, Ms. Vishneva begins an entirely new venture when she stars at City Center in "Beauty in Motion," a program of three commissioned ballets.
Ms. Vishneva is a driven and demanding perfectionist, and, like all dancers, she is acutely aware of the race against time. "Beauty in Motion" comes in the middle of an extraordinarily crowded season for the artist. Last fall, she spent more time dancing with the Kirov at the Mariinsky Theatre, its grand old home in St. Petersburg, than she had in some time. In November, she starred in a new production of "Giselle," by Nikita Dolgushin, at the newly refurbished Mikhailovsky (formerly Maly) Theater, across town from the Mariinsky. Three weeks ago, she opened the Kirov's week-long season in Washington, D.C., dancing Nikiya in "La Bayadère." As far as New York is concerned, "Beauty in Motion" finds her almost competing with herself; she returns to City Center with the Kirov for its three-week season in April, before dancing three performances with ABT at the Met.
If "Beauty in Motion" marks Ms. Vishneva's first outing as virtual artistic director, it also descends from the Kirov tradition of the "Creative Evening," which during the Soviet era allowed major Kirov dancers rare opportunities to dance new choreography, works chosen or specially commissioned for the evening.
Over the past decade, I've followed Ms. Vishneva's career closely, and I was in St. Petersburg last fall when she starred in what was perhaps her own answer to the Creative Evenings: an elaborate gala performance entitled "Silenzio. Diana Vishneva." According to Igor Stupnikov, writing in Britain's Dancing Times magazine, the gala was Ms. Vishneva's "brainchild" and "was shaped by her initiative," and it was she who selected Russian theater director Andre Moguchy to direct the evening.
"Silenzio" began with Ms. Vishneva entering the stage dressed in a gingham shmatta. The stage was piled high with boxes; she might have been Pippi Longstocking working in the stockroom at Macy's. Then, over the course of the next 80 minutes, she performed snippets from virtually her entire repertory, unspooling in a postmodern scrimmage.
"Silenzio" was hyped throughout the Kirov community as if it were an epochal act of creativity. The stage floor moved, fiber-optic projections were superimposed, and a flashlight-wielding horde of homeboys stomped on to disrupt classical propriety. Coming from the West, I found "Silencio" naïvely cluttered with putative technological and conceptual wonders that were only too familiar. Ms. Vishneva danced as well as ever; her performance was a remarkable display of stamina and versatility. But the decision — whether it was Ms. Vishneva's or the Mariinsky's — to schedule "Silencio" on Vladimir Putin's 55th birthday seemed overly propitiatory. I left the Mariinsky that night wondering whether the disconnect in aesthetic and taste could ever be bridged.
But in "Beauty in Motion," she seems to be trying to close that gap. She's commissioned one Russian choreographer, Alexei Ratmansky, and two Americans, Moses Pendleton and Dwight Rhoden. Currently the Bolshoi's artistic director, Mr. Ratmansky has also choreographed one ballet for New York City Ballet and this spring will make another; he is also in talks to become the company's resident choreographer. At the Kirov, Ms. Vishneva has danced his "Cinderella." For "Beauty in Motion," he has made a quartet to Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire," that Ms. Vishneva will perform with three Kirov colleagues.
Mr. Pendleton was one of the founders of Pilobolus and is the current director of Momix, which performed in St. Petersburg last year. His piece is a solo for Ms. Vishneva entitled "F.L.O.W. (For the Love of Women)." Mr. Rhoden's piece is a sextet, "Three Point Turn," that also features Desmond Richardson, with whom he directs Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Both men are alumni of the Alvin Ailey troupe, which has been a great favorite in Russia since its first tour there almost 40 years ago.
"Beauty in Motion" will be performed to live music, something of a luxury in these days of cost- and corner-cutting in dance. However these works turn out, "Beauty in Motion" is a courageous exercise in self-actualization by a ballerina who is always hungry to do more.