Eifman Ballet
Kings of the Dance Tickets

Diana Vishneva: Beauty in Motion

Title: Ballerina's 'Beauty' thwarted Diana Vishneva's overly ambitious show only sparingly celebrates her star gifts.
Date: February 14, 2008

There is much to love about Kirov prima ballerina Diana Vishneva, the 21st-century dancer par excellence.
She is that rare jewel. Lean, beautiful, athletic, lyrical, theatrical and spontaneous – a nearly unmatched package achieved through god-given physical talent, artistic insight, and plain determination.
Unlike some stars (Frenchwoman Sylvie Guillem springs to mind), who turn on the auto-pilot mid-performance, Vishneva is utterly generous onstage. She is simultaneously vulnerable and triumphant each time out; each performance is unique.
Given all of that, it was disappointing how little there was to love about Wednesday's premiere of "Diana Vishneva: Beauty in Motion," the vanity project packaged by producer Sergei Danilian and co-produced with the Orange County Performing Artscenter in association with the Mariinsky Theatre.
Our lovely star was before us for almost the entire three-act show, and yet we barely got to know her. Specially commissioned dances by the Bolshoi Ballet's Alexei Ratmansky, Momix founder Moses Pendleton and Dwight Rhoden of Complexions cast her as an ensemble player or literally covered her up in fabric and props.
Only modern dance choreographer Pendleton – who initially seemed an odd choice to collaborate with this quintessential classicist – at least partially gave us an enhanced Vishneva, the ballerina we know, but made larger-than-life.
Ratmansky had cast Vishneva as the leading lady in his 2002 "Cinderella" for the Kirov, but this prior experience gave him no advantage here, with "Pierrot Lunaire." Perhaps he swallowed too much with his musical choice and subject matter – Arnold Schoenberg's 1912 "Pierrot Lunaire," and the Italian commedia dell'arte characters, which continue to entice choreographers, and bedevil them, too, it must be said.
Vishneva, along with Kirov Ballet principal Igor Kolb and soloists Mikhail Lobukhin and Alexander Sergeev, took turns as the hapless Pierrot, illustrating aspects of Albert Giraud's 21 poems, which form the basis of the song cycle. The musical ensemble and Kirov Opera mezzo-soprano Elena Sommer, led by Kirov conductor Mikhail Tatarnikov, were hampered by echoing amplification and low volume at first. But even as the sound improved, the dances themselves never rose to the poetic.
Sometimes, Ratmansky illustrated the German text literally, as in "The Dandy" section with two men preening, or when Vishneva became a sorrowful Madonna. What appeared to be abstract sections were more satisfying simply for the clever assemblage of steps. Here, Vishneva was let loose, such as during a too-brief solo of whirring turns and piqués.
But for those who don't speak German or hadn't memorized the poems, the ballet became a pile of movement phrases, exploding at double-time. It whizzed past on a single note, without emphasis or nuance.
Pendleton's "F.L.O.W., For the Love of Women" began like many a Momix piece, in black light with a disembodied white arm dancing to recorded songs. Two more white arms appeared (belonging to Maria Shevyakova and Ekaterina Ivannikova), and then legs. The appendages together formed faces, swans and so on.
In part two, Vishneva, in nude-colored leotard, lounged and stretched on a giant mirrored wedge (props by Michael Curry). Her spectacularly sensuous double image became a metaphor for desire; there was also, though, something freakish in this display. In the final section, the ballerina whirled, like a contemporary Loie Fuller, in a curtain of beads, which stood out horizontally as she spun.
We looked forward to Rhoden's "Three Point Turn" for its first-time match-up of Vishneva with Desmond Richardson, a modern dancer as incomparable and hard-working as Vishneva. Their duets – in a brusque, pumping movement vocabulary – well-captured the gut-twisting moments of a relationship on the rocks.
The other two Kirov couples were there, too, but their efforts faded into the background.
Rhoden's precipitous, gymnastic style of gesturing, kicking and frantic running was well-matched to composer David Rozenblatt propulsive score. But the breathlessness left this viewer empty and unable to truly see what took place. It did not serve Vishneva well, either, even though she is a strong allegro dancer. She was pulling down on Isabel Rubio's skimpy leotards – another bad fit.
It's hard to know who the master is with a project such as "Beauty in Motion." Should it be the artist, who wants to stretch, or the audience, who wants to see the artist they know? There might be a satisfactory middle ground, but this show didn't find it.