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Fifth International Mariinksy Ballet Festival

Diana Vishneva Gala Performance

by Catherine Pawlick

March 26, 2005 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

As part of the Fifth International Mariinsky Ballet Festival, Diana Vishneva, darling of the St. Petersburg ballet circles, launched the first of three gala performances offered by Mariinsky's leading ladies with flash and panache. From the serene pas de deux in the Shades scene of "La Bayadere" to the flashy playfulness of "Rubies", Vishneva exhibited a full range of dancing styles and emotional delivery to a full house on Saturday night. If the program can be faulted, it is only for not offering her a chance to demonstrate her professional dramatic ability - something that distinguishes her from many of her contemporaries - to its full extent within the span of one evening.

The program opened with the audience-capturing Shades scene from "La Bayadere". No balletomane, tourist, boyfriend in tow, or otherwise categorized spectator is immune to the impression left by 32 Kirov ballerina-shades, virtual mirrors of one another, stepping onto the stage in pristine white tutus for the famous series of arabesque penchees. Thanks to the corps de ballet's polished work, Vishneva was able to enter the stage with the mood fully set for her pas de deux with Daniil Korsuntsev. Her initial movements were cool perfection, melting into one another, the image of the perfect ballerina in Solor's dream. And aside from one minor stumble in the series of quick pique en-dehors to arabesque, not a step or gesture was amiss. Even in her coda the series of lightening speed soutenue turns were unbelievable. Her energy level was higher than in last month's "Ten Years in the Art" anniversary performance in which she danced "Giselle" with Andrian Fadeev. This pas de deux was a glimpse of Vishneva at her technical best.

Comment should be given equally to the three Shades soloists who danced during Vishneva's offstage interludes. Ekaterina Osmolkina led the cabriole variation, fully aware of the audience and dancing for them. Ksenia Ostreikovskaya danced the sissone brise variation cleanly, and Olesya Novikova's series of hops in arabesque drew the audience's attention. The three dancers complemented each other in the trio sequences as well.

After a brief intermission, the tone shifted from classical to modern with the premiere of "Bras de la Mer", an abstract piece created specifically for Vishneva and danced in it with her by Petr Zuska of the Prague National Ballet. The work displayed Vishneva's modern dance capabilities - she could be any Graham or Ailey dancer - but was light on clearly understandable emotion, perhaps because it left so much room for interpretation.

The ballet opens with the woman, Vishneva, seated in a chair, a man standing to her left slightly behind the chair, and both of them on a table in the middle of the stage. The couple is dressed in drab beige, farmhand-like clothing, Vishneva's hair in a braid. The first musical section sounds like a harmonica, during which the couple and the chair, through a series of interwoven movements, come off the table. His first motion is a sudden recoiling of the arm from its place resting on her shoulder, then bending down towards her, his head either seeking consolation or expressing mourning. The second section is piano music and then we hear a French voice singing about the sea, the theme from which the ballet's title is taken. Every possible manner of movement is performed with the chair, table and couple: sliding under or over the table, lifting and dragging it, using it as a see-saw. Similar movements are performed with the chair.

Throughout, Vishneva appeared distraught or simply emotionally distanced from her partner. It wasn't clear what the couple's relationship to each other was - love, abuse, disgust? The two danced separately more than together, and negative connotations overrode positive ones for the most part. At the ballet's end, places were reversed as the man sat in the chair and Vishneva, standing behind him, recoiled her hand from his shoulder, and then bent down towards him. This was undoubtedly "modern" ballet both choreographically and in its abstract emotional presentation. The work proved Vishneva's adaptability to different choreographic styles, and exhibited her serious, dramatic nature.

Following "Bras de la Mer", as a brief respite for Vishneva, Alexei Ratmansky's enticing "Middle Duet" was danced by Natalia Sologub with Andrei Mercuriev. The combination of music and choreography in this short work is indescribably alluring. One could watch this ballet hundreds of times and never tire of it. Steps vary from a tug-toss tango, in which Sologub is shaken (not stirred), to Mercuriev whirling Sologub around in circles, her arms and legs outstretched and her head limp, like a doll. Sologub's mesmerizing limbs, shown off by a short black leotard dress, are icing on the cake. One is wont to say 'do it again please, just one more time' once they finish. It seemed almost an injustice to have such a delicious balletic interlude danced by Sologub in the program dedicated to Vishneva, but it only added to the evening's visual pleasures.

Following "Middle Duet", Vishneva returned for the brief pas de deux section from "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated" with Maxim Khrebtov. Tom William's pulsing, slurping, seeping music allows a choreographic release from any classical confines, and Vishneva took advantage of this, accentuating every overstretched position, off-balance penche or fast footwork.

Despite the announced but nonetheless tedious 40 minute intermission following the second act, everything was in order production-wise for the finale of Balanchine's "Rubies". As the curtain opened, more than one gasp escaped from the audience; 'classy' someone was overheard saying nearby. As she has done before, Vishneva epitomized a jazzy Western soubrette in her expressions and movement. Balanchine's choreography is her playground, and she is having the time of her life onstage. Boyish but polished Andrian Fadeev was her partner in crime, enjoying himself equally during the hitchkicks and high jumps in his variation followed by the other "boys" in tow.

Whereas Vishneva's Ten Year Anniversary performance in February showed her strengths as an actress and was arguably light on technical challenges, this evening's gala performance proved to be the opposite. Based on this program, the ballerina's technical range - with the sole absence of fouettes - cannot be doubted. And between her glacial nature in "La Bayadere", troubled expressions in "Bras de la Mer" and saucy playfulness in "Rubies", it is clear that the range of her dramatic ability is infinite. No singular ballet contains a wide enough array of dramatic expressions and technical challenges to be an apt vehicle for all of Vishneva's talents. The most we can hope for is to glimpse some of her various aptitudes in each performance.

May Diana Vishneva's successes on the world stage continue for many years to come.

Edited by Staff.

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