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Kirov Ballet

'Silenzio: Diana Vishneva'

by Catherine Pawlick

7 October 2007 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

"Silenzio: Diana Vishneva”, an evening featuring the ballerina within the theme of mute movement, juxtaposed a compendium of ballet excerpts against a minimalist, escapist background that left plenty of food for thought. Created by Andrei Moguchi, Alexei Kononov and Konstantin Uchitel, the evening was based on “the motif of silence” described in the program notes:

The heroine encounters undefined obstacles of external and internal character. The tragedy of the artist is connected to the fact that she is either not understood or misunderstood.

It seems to me that Diana Vishneva is similar to [other] artists in the process of an eternal search... and with the rare ability to deeply feel life’s beauty and transience. The resolution of the performance – external minimalism in the sets with wide use of unique spectrum of new multimedia technolog – allows us to create constantly changing images.”

That constantly changing imagery launched the intermission-less evening that clocked in at an hour and twenty minutes, not counting the ten minute ovation. The dancing took place in a strange setting:  a raised rectangular platform surrounded by large white boxes piled sky high, dotted with single black boots placed in haphazard fashion. Projected onto the uneven white box backdrop were various childlike sketches – a teddy bear, some scribbles – in the manner of live computer drawings, as well as photographic images, such as a doll. The “room” created onstage was a cross between a little girl’s large play area and a prison. The vertical box in front of which Vishneva sat as the audience filtered in displayed hands of a clock speeding through the hours. A recorded sound track played in the intervals when orchestral music wasn’t used, often emitting the sounds of a music box, or an eerie, haunted house-type hum.

After an initial walk around the stage shoving boxes aside, Vishneva removed her grey pinafore dress and black boots to reveal a red unitard, and William Forsythe’s “StepText” began in the altered space. The abstract, almost angry aura of the piece along with its minimalist costumes provided ample room for Vishneva to display her flexibility. She was accompanied in stellar fashion by Igor Kolb, Maxim Khrebtov and Mikhail Lobukhin, attentive partners all. Vishneva’s toned physique was visible in the minimalist costume which showed her musculature to advantage.

Following “StepText” the music box theme returned, as it would intermittently throughout the program. The combination of sound, props and lighting portrayed the image of a little girl growing up in a world bigger than she is and struggling for expression. At one point Vishneva fell to the floor repeatedly, as if exhausted but willed to continue dancing; at other points her tantrums resulted in more boxes tumbling.

Scene and costume changes were facilitated by interludes danced by the corps de ballet. Thirty two corps de ballet members from the Mariinsky entered in Anna Pavlova-era tutus performing the Shades entrance from “La Bayadere”. As they did so, the computer-projected scribbling continued on them in pinks, blues and greens, distracting considerably from the effect typically achieved by this stunning entrance.

Then a circular section of the stage began to rotate, taking the “Shades” dancers in center stage with it. Vishneva, back in her pinafore, walked through the dancing girls on the moving disk, head hung with sadness.

Still in the red unitard, Vishneva attached a long romantic tutu on top, and the same three partners from “StepText” took turns partnering her for several interludes from Act II of “Giselle”. Her emotion shifted from abstract annoyance to liquid sorrow in this section. An interlude followed in which 16 Vaganova students in carbon copy, miniature grey pinafore dresses performed the Little Swans from “Swan Lake”, the music cutting to silence every several counts.

Whenever she was onstage, Vishneva’s rapidly changing emotions were another key theme. In “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux”, she offered brilliant petite allegro attack, a constantly sparkling smile and much bravura. Andrian Fadeev’s own virtuosity in this section seemed diminished by his dull, all-black costume, but his technique easily matched Vishneva’s for its flair. The mood of the piece was light, energizing and happy. But only seconds after the final note, Vishneva plunged instantly back into a darkened stage, head hung low, walking, dejected or tired. This emotional see-saw continued throughout the evening. The message seemed to be multi-layered, suggesting the silence that a dancer lives within, the muteness required in this visual art, the lifelong dedication and the untiring efforts that take their toll on the artist, part and parcel of the struggle for expression and perfection.

Preceding this number, the 32 Shades reentered the stage as swans, only they continued the Act II Swan Lake sauté arabesque sequence at least six times. The effect after the first repetition (by which time corps de ballet swan #1 would have already done 64 sautes), was a bit trying on some of the audience members who impatiently began applauding with the hopes of curtailing the endlessly jumping swans.

The choice of numbers in this program, as would be expected, accentuated Vishneva’s talents and diminished her weaknesses – that is to say, she did not perform parts of “Swan Lake” but rather “The Dying Swan” as the final piece. Filled with much pathos and emotion, Vishneva’s swan was agonized; one sensed a struggle and pain before she folded on the floor in the final pose.

In all, the evening was a strange compilation of classicism against the backdrop of avant-garde minimalism. One wonders if the idea of the artist’s suffering and isolation could not have been developed with further integration of the music box theme. As it was, the myriad of images left plenty of room for personal interpretation. This evening, Vishneva proved once again the range of her dramatic strengths, and her refined technique in specific genres of classical ballet. Judging by the audience response, she still carries a strong following within the Petersburg public and within the range of her talents can present an enjoyable evening.

Pavel Bubelnikov conducted the orchestrated sections of the evening.

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