Diana's Beautiful But Aloof Prima Russian Swan, and A Snubbed Marcelo!

So, last night I went to see ABT‘s Swan Lake, starring my favorite (Marcelo Gomes OF COURSE), and the Russian ballerina ALL the critics are talking about, Diana Vishneva, who divides her time between the Kirov Ballet, in St. Petersberg, and ABT. I was really looking forward to seeing these two together, and particularly to Ms. Vishneva, since I’ve seen so little of her.

I just WANT so badly to love her. She just didn’t really do it for me here. I do think she’s a great ballerina capable of really taking your breath away at points. In the third Act of the ballet (the famous black swan pas de deux), she whipped around those fouettes around like I’ve never seen anyone do before — I’m not a counter but I swear it seemed they numbered in the triple digits, and she was spinning so fast I felt my own head spin just watching her. She looked pleased with herself, for once (I think she’s very, very hard on herself). But artistically, and I almost feel badly criticizing her for this because I feel kind of like it’s a Russian thing, but I feel that she’s a great solo dancer, a great prima ballerina, but one who works magic on her own, not with a partner.

In fact, she wasn’t working with my Marcelo at all! Near the beginning, Marcelo’s Prince Siegfried has just been given a crossbow at his coming-of-age party and now is out in the woods dealing with the fact that he’s about to become king and must get over his childishness and pick a bride. He sees the beautiful swan and of course, like a dumb boy, starts to take aim, when she suddenly transforms into the beautiful girl, Odette, that she is (pre-spell cast by the evil von Rothbert). When she does so, he is stunned, immediately taken with her, and quietly watches her. She soon spots him and is afraid, and he makes clear he’s not going to harm her; to the contrary, he’s mesmerized. She then tells him her sorrowful story of the spell and what must be done to relieve it.

So, I feel like I only saw this story from Marcelo’s point of view. When he shows her he’s not going to harm her, his feelings are so clear; he acts it perfectly. But she hasn’t seemed fearful, so I’m totally confused. And I don’t see her transforming from swan to girl, back to swan — I see something lovely and ethereal, but that’s all, no story and no dual character. And then when they do the pas de deux (in which she’s supposed to tell him her sad story), I see a prima ballerina dancing gorgeously as a beautiful swan, but NOT a swan — a prima ballerina dancing as a swan. And, I don’t see her communicating in the least with him. It’s like the man is just a human elevator, just there to lift her ballerina / swan into the air so that she can shine up there, half way to the ceiling, gloriously. And I know there are those to whom this is what Ballet is: the man is not supposed to be seen; he’s just there to carry the ballerina all over the stage and keep her from falling during her turns and arabesques so that the illusion that she’s this ethereal being who can float in the air unsupported can be maintained.

But that’s not Ballet for me. The man is essential to me. He’s part of the story, and he’s an important character, and he’s not just a human transporter of ethereal ballerinas. He’s the man, he’s Marcelo, and he should be seen, dammit! 🙂

Okay, back to that third Act, the black swan pas de deux where she does the spectacular fouettes: Diana is now playing the evil von Rothbert’s daughter, Odile, whose mission is to seduce him so that he will not be able to save Odette from her swan fate. I felt this duet worked ever so slightly better since she’s now supposed to be kind of wickedly, meanly, seductively playing with his feelings, but it still wasn’t what it would have been if theirs was a true partnership. It was too much about her; she was still too aloof to be seductive.

Weird as this may sound, what I actually DO kind of like about her is what she brings culturally to ABT. She so Russian, the way she takes her mid-performance bows and then curtain calls in the end. It’s actually kind of fun to see that on an American stage — all of that slow, drawn-out melodrama and extreme seriousness. Russian ballet dancers take themselves and their art with all the seriousness in the world. And what I love so much about Marcelo is that he’s such a great partner, such a great guy, such a great overall human 🙂 that he just goes along with whatever his ballerina is doing. So, with her, he kind of became “Russian” too — standing in back of her and presenting her as if she’s absolute Royalty, all intense seriousness and melodrama right along with her.

My ballet universe just would not be the same without Marcelo 🙂 He tells the story for me and makes everything real and human and relatable. Even just the way he sits on his throne watching all the would-be brides, taking it all in, humored by some of them at points, then thinking he sees Odette, remembering her, realizing how devastated he is, the way he first sees the swan and boyishly wants to take aim, then is overtaken by her transformation, the way he “talks” to her… Like I said, he just tells the whole story with his face and his actions. And even outside of the world of the story, the way you can see the dancerly concentration on his face, making sure he’s being a perfect support for the ballerina, just taking care of her onstage — it’s so endearing; makes him seem like a real guy and not a “dancer” — I guess the complete antithesis to her.

One other thing about her: I saw this posted on Ballet Talk. It’s her website and she has a page where fans can interact with her. One fan recently told her they were excited about coming to see her perform here, said they were really looking forward to seeing marvelous dancing. Her response: “good luck.” Hehe. She obviously has a fun sense of humor, another thing that makes me want to like her… Not like personality is a substitute for knock-out dancing, but it’s definitely not unimportant either… I will definitely keep going to her performances; there is something very intriguing about her; she has a real mystique, even if she hasn’t blown me away yet 🙂

Anyway, intermissions were fun-filled as well. I saw Anna Kisselgoff, former New York Times chief dance critic, in the ladies room. Then, I ran into Apollinaire in the lobby! She took me to the press office to get press packets — there’s a lot of very interesting info in these little packets: in-depth history and synopsis of the ballet, info on the choreography, the scenery and costumes, the music and the score broken down to each tiny piece of the ballet, all kinds of cool details. And there’s a whole little universe over there on the lower left side of the house, orchestra level — all these little nooks and crannies, little rooms and offices! Who knew?!

AND, while we were lounging outside of the press office, in the hallway, who should come blazing through the back door but the illustrious Roberto! I tried to stay all calm and act nonchalant and pretend I had no idea who he was, but, as they rounded the corner, his friend caught me staring at him all doe-eyed from behind. Oh well…

One last thing: here is Vitali Krauchenka, a corps dancer who danced von Rothbert:

Philip and I saw him at the gift shop at New York City Ballet a few days ago (albeit looking not like the pic above but like this :)) during the final performance there. Very strong stage presence! I really like him.


  1. others have also noticed how vishneva is not the “easiest” dancer to partner…i have seen her last year in manon, romeo and juliet, and this year’s “Dream”…i think she’s a bit difficult to partner because when she dances, she throws herself so energetically into her partner’s arms, with absolutely no fear…and i’ve seen her partners struggle a bit. (malakhov handled her with ease; corella did not). she danced with malakhov last year in manon, and it was so amazing; she seemed so fearless, throwing her weight around like that, completely trusting her partner. (the third act pas de deux was the best i’ve seen; with vishneva and malakhov.) she doesn’t seem to adjust her dancing to make it “easier” for her partner to dance with her, her dancing sends this message: “this is the way i dance, you’d better do your job as a partner and catch me”. haha. i’m sure she’s not snobby at all, but after watching her dance…i love it because she throws herself completely into the choreography,…the girl is the picture, the guy is the frame…and i love that about vishneva… but others may see her as someone difficult to dance with, which i think is partly the partner’s blame :).

  2. as i said, i dont think this is her best role yet.

    What other SL are you seeing? Are you seeing Part? because if you want hearbreaking connection between siegfried and odette, sat matinee is probably the place to get it (and its Marcello again! i know you cant resist!!! 😉 )

  3. I thought there was a general lack of chemistry between Vishneva and David H in the SLEEPING BEAUTY I saw but I attributed it to the lousy production and the notion that they were probably both miserable dancing in it.

  4. In his ABT headshot Vitali reminds me very much of a young Robert LaFosse…

  5. Delirium, now after seeing Part in Bayadere and loving her so much, I really really really want to see her SL, but unfortunately it looks like everything in the section I really like to sit in is sold out! Are you going? I might just buy a balcony ticket (assuming they are still available) and sit all the way up there, although I can’t see that well from up there — I might just do it anyway and have the binoculars glued to my face all night… Other than that, I’m seeing David and Michele.

    Haha, I had to look Robert La Fosse — found a picture of him on the Steps website — yeah, I can see the resemblance, but Vitali is more Russian 🙂

  6. Hi Tonya! Sorry I missed you the other night – I forgot that there’s only 1 intermission in the McKenzie Swan Lake. it’s putting a crimp in my ballet social life.

    I thought Vishneva’s performance was excellent, but I also agree with you that (comparatively speaking) it wasn’t one of the great ones. I don’t know if aloof is the word I’d use to describe her – I’ve seen aloof Odettes and they bore me to tears. Last year she had some problems in SL but this time I found her fascinating and beautiful with well developed dramatic & stylistic approach. Problem is, she doesn’t move me emotionally and for me that’s what keeps her from being a great Odette/Odile. I frankly think that while this production is pretty & tells the story well it really de-emphasizes all the emotional climaxes, so it makes it difficult for any ballerina to really break my heart – but others have come much closer (i.e Nina & Veronika). I also found her interaction with Marcelo strange. It felt to me as if each of them was emotionally invested in their roles but that they weren’t connecting with each other. Very strange, especially after that killer Manon.

    I also agree with Delirium 100% that this is not her best role and that you should go see Marcelo & Veronika on Saturday, even from the balcony. They also create each performance anew, and they have incredible chemistry. Last year when I saw them I was just blown away by Marcelo’s Siegfreid. It was on a whole different level from his performance on Tuesday. Not that he was bad on Tuesday (our Marcelo – never!) just that he and Part seem to inspire each other.

  7. Susan, are you going to see nina and veronika?

    I’ll be at both performances.

    I hope Nina is the Nina I remember. I didn’t think she was quite on form in bayadere. And she’s one of my all time favorite O/Os!

    And Tonya, whatever tix you can get for saturday matinee, get!

  8. I’ll be at both performances, too. I actually went up to New Haven to see Nina in Giselle a couple weeks ago. She’s definitely not back at 100% yet but she has so much heart and such good instincts that hopefully we’ll all be too caught up in her magic to dwell on any imperfections

  9. Hi Susan! I know, I forgot about the one intermission too; I was kind of stunned when Apollinaire reminded me at the end of the intermission that there wouldn’t be another one — and then I remembered it was McKenzie’s version, not the original and he usually, as you said, shortens things up. Yeah, he does take out a lot in his versions — I noticed that in Sleeping Beauty too — it’s like he’s tying to make them shorter and sweeter, but then you do lose some of the power and depth.

    I’m glad you thought the same thing I did regarding Marcelo and Diana not really working together (and SanderO said the same thing in a comment on my earlier post) — so it’s not just me! Yeah, Jennifer, I meant to say earlier, I do think she is a very passionate dancer and I can tell she puts so much of herself into her roles; she just throws herself into them, and that’s what is keeping me coming back to see more of her. But for some reason she didn’t really move me in this role. And she didn’t seem to work with him at all here — she hardly even looked at him, sometimes not even in his direction; it was like they were on two separate stages at some points — and so totally different from seeing him dance with Julie the last time I saw this ballet last year. Julie and Marcelo work so incredibly well with each other, almost like they were made for each other — but then I guess they’ve had a lot more time to work with and get comfortable with each other. And Julie’s almost the complete opposite of Diana to me — I find her much more interesting with Marcelo (or with another partner, like Jose) than on her own.

    Anyway, have fun tonight watching Nina, you guys! I’ll do whatever it takes to be there on Saturday afternoon! Maybe we can all meet up then?

  10. i do hear great things about irina; anyone see her?

    i wonder if Vishneva is more of a “romantic” ballerina; more suited for passionate roles like Manon & Juliet…? She’s wonderful in those roles. Would love to see her as Odette…but odd to think that in my memory, Gillian Murphy was the best Odette I’d seen, and she’s not my favorite usually. Do you think Odette/Odile is more suited for “technical” and classic style ballerinas? (I would consider technicians with classical flair = Gillian Murphy, Paloma Herrera, Veronika Part, Michele Wiles). (Oh, and I do know that the word “technical” has bad connotations but I mean it in the very best sense here).

  11. I saw Irina last year. I didn’t love it. Good, but not great (surprisingly i found her giselle last year fantastic! which one wouldnt expect given the sorts of reviews she gets).

    Nina was FANTASTIC. And I have never seen anything like Angel tonight. His jumps were of course lovely but his turns? holy crap….how many rotations was that and HOW was it humanly possible?!!! I mean WOW.

    I was very disapointed in Nina’s Bayadere, so i’m not just being starry eyed. And yes her fouettes, while excellent, were not the speed demon ones of years past. But she was unbelievable. And if you’ve never seen her swan arms…how does someone do that!?

    Both her Odette and Odile are so fabulous that i cant really say which i prefer…

    I’d be up for meeting saturday–maybe lunch (brunch?) before the show?

  12. Yes, Nina was great last night. I also thought she was still a little tentative in Bayadere, and a tad underpowered in Giselle, but this Swan Lake was great.

    Unfortunately I ‘ll be with some friends on Saturday, so I can’t join you then but I’m going to Cinderella on Tuesday – anyone up for a drink before the curtain? Now that they’ve announced that Abrera’s subbing for Reyes I’ll probably go to one of those performances, too. Probably the Saturday night

  13. Newsflash!!!! According to Wolcott’s blog Veronika is injured & won’t be dancing tomorrow. ABT’s website confirms that Max & Irina will sub. Too bad, I’ve been looking forward to this performance all season!

  14. Thanks Susan — I just found out tonight — I was there and they told us. Oh, I didn’t know it was Veronika who was injured — they didn’t tell us why; just that irina and max were dancing instead. I know I was looking forward too. But I’ve actually never seen Irina dance this and think it will be interesting so I’m still going to go. I’ll look for you during intermission.

Comments are closed