Title: Vishneva's Varied Guises
Author: JOEL LOBENTHAL
Date: February 25, 2008
Publisher: The New York Sun
A classical ballerina going out in a solo turn is a risky venture, a delicate balancing act. Diana Vishneva has done just that. The dancer, employed by both the Kirov Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, commissioned three new pieces for her "Beauty in Motion" program, which came to City Center last week after a run in Orange County a week earlier. All three avoided seeming like vanity pieces that were egregiously self-celebratory or self-exploitative, but they neglected to tell us something new about Ms. Vishneva or to extend her abilities in a meaningful way. As freestanding pieces of choreography, these three works were palatable but not outstanding.
Alexei Ratmansky's "Pierrot Lunaire" was an arid start to the program. It was performed to Schoenberg's 1912 speech/song-cycle of the same name, a self-indulgent musical choice by Mr. Ratmansky that Ms. Vishneva should have vetoed. Schoenberg's music is set to a German translation of verses by French Symbolist poet Albert Giraud. At City Center, live music helped allay the concern that we were witnessing an emerging corporate franchise, Vishneva Inc. "Pierrot Lunaire" was performed in the pit by mezzo-soprano Elena Sommer and musicians led by Mikhail Tatarnikov. It would have been nice to hear this reading on a concert program, but Schoenberg's composition is not a felicitous choice to accompany ballet. The motor impulse is weak, the episodes too numerous and too short, the guttural sounds too competitive.
Mr. Ratmansky has drunk from the well of commedia that has sustained so many choreographers, but he has not drunk very deeply. He has produced a perfunctory mix of classical ballet steps spliced with the archetypal tropes of itinerant pantomime. Mr. Ratmansky often extrapolated a plot from the verses, but, in Symbolist fashion, these verses contain such a welter of imagery that they can hardly be translated to dance in any faithful way. Nor has Mr. Ratmansky kinetically reimagined the Symbolist texts in the way that Nijinsky did in "Afternoon of a Faun" or Ashton did in "Illuminations." Instead, the impression was of a blurred succession of quick takes. Ms. Vishneva and three Kirov Ballet colleagues — Igor Kolb, Mikhail Lobukhin, and Alexander Sergeev — kept exchanging roles, so Ms. Vishneva seemed at different times a mocking Harlequin, a forlorn Pierrot, or an elusive and sometimes heartless Columbine. Each persona seemed one that she could excel at, given a deeper exposition. Her performance was a tantalizing hint of what she could map out in this particular territory.
Moses Pendleton's "F.L.O.W." (For Love Of Women)," was staged as though the choreographer were trying to situate Ms. Vishneva in a place of honor in his own performing universe, the company Momix. If she was essential to any of the three works that made up "Beauty in Motion," it was this one, which was performed to a typical Pendleton musical sampler, bracketing birdsong and New Age music. Mr. Pendleton always has ingenious tricks up his sleeve, and so he has proved here, as he has approached female allure and potency from a number of perspectives. Nevertheless, the first of the three sections of "F.L.O.W." could have been jettisoned altogether. It involved Ms. Vishneva together with the Kirov's Maria Shevyakova and Ekaterina Ivannikova in the guise of disembodied glowworms. Highlighted stockings blended their individual limbs into one aggregate tableau after another, many of them involving visual puns, some of them sexual. In the second section, Ms. Vishneva, in a flesh-color body stocking, reclined on a mirrored cliff, savoring her own reflection appreciatively. The Kama Sutra, a Martha Graham floor exercise, tentacular flexing, and the birth pangs with which Balanchine begins "Apollo" — all were evoked before Ms. Vishneva disappeared over the precipice. She returned once more, enclosed now in a cage of beaded strands that then became a satellite-dish headdress spinning centrifugally as she hopped and whirled, executed tiny jumps, and stood up or sat on her knees. This section had resonance as a dervish-like return to the underpinnings of theatrical dance.
Dwight Rhoden's "Three Point Turn" was performed by all the evening's dancers save Mr. Kolb, to a score by David Rozenblatt that collated random sounds and minimalist peroration. Here Ms. Vishneva was partnered with Desmond Richardson, who has the authority to handle her and not turn into a cipher. The vocabulary and imagery were deeply indebted to William Forsythe, to whose works Ms. Vishneva dances at the Kirov. I don't think Ms. Vishneva is at her best in Mr. Forsythe's repertory; nevertheless she did her best to be dangerous and "ugly," as the Forsythian recipe requires, in several duets with Mr. Richardson that seemed mostly to describe mutual predation. Pointe shoes lent length to her lines, while bare legs showed us the muscular grimacing that transpired as she ground her hips into gyrations and torqued out her equilibrium.