Diana Vishneva's "Beauty in Motion" at City Center

I’m writing a review of this for Explore Dance, so will make this short; I wanted to post something quickly since it’s only showing tonight and tomorrow (Sunday) matinee.

It’s funny to me that dance-makers and fans always complain that critics are destroying dance with their negative reviews. I think they often do the opposite, creating loads of hype, sometimes deserved, sometimes not. And you don’t know which it is until you’ve seen the program. In this case, I’d say the program is worth seeing, but not for the reasons the critics say. The highlight to me was the brilliant brilliant Desmond Richardson of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, in the third ballet of the night, “Three Point Turn,” Dwight Rhoden’s exciting piece about the turbulence of male / female relationships. Richardson had two breathtaking solos that brought the crowd, rightly, to its feet. For a ballet-trained dancer he excels at the sharp, angular, staccato movements that are the hallmark of modern. He’s really a marvel.

I also enjoyed in that last piece Kirov danseur Mikhail Lobukhin. He’s a muscular man with a longish blonde mane and highly arched feet that, when he points, enable him to make beautiful lines. He has kind of an androgynous appeal, which works well for this piece in which masculine violent passion and feminine romantic love are often evoked simultaneously.

In the first ballet of the evening, Alexei Ratmansky’s “Pierrot Lunaire,” which aims to put to dance a set of Fifteenth-Century European poems about a clown’s descent into madness and back again, and in which the clown is depicted alternately by four dancers (all from the Kirov), Alexander Sergeev was my favorite. He interpreted his clown’s changing happiness, sadness, sexual fervor, and madness with the most pathos, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.

The show is meant to celebrate Diana Vishneva, the Russian ballerina who is currently a principal with American Ballet Theater as well as the Kirov Ballet, or Mariinsky Theater, in St. Petersburg. The middle piece, by Moses Pendleton, the modern, not ballet, choreographer who founded theatrical dance companies, Pilobolus and MOMIX, is the one that most celebrates Vishneva, because it allows her to have the stage entirely to herself. I don’t think she works tremendously well with others (which I’ve noted before), and I have yet to see what all the critics are so orgasmic about with her, but Pendleton gave her some brilliant props to work with — particularly a large mirror upon which she lay in various positions, she and her reflection together evoking a series of imaginative shapes, and a beaded headdress which she wore and spun around repeatedly in, making interesting forms with the material — and the result seemed to be the crowd-pleaser of the night (other than Richardson).

At the end of the last piece, the curtain went down, then rose again. All dancers besides Vishneva were onstage. The dancers linked hands and came forward for a group bow. Then, each came forward one at a time — five in all — then another group bow. The dancers began looking at each other, a bit concerned. The conductor — shaggy-haired and good-looking I might add! — came onstage and took a bow. The dancers took another group bow. The singer came onstage and took a bow. The audience applauded on and on, for a good ten minutes. The dancers looked at each other, more worried. Audience members began to shrug their shoulders. “Is she coming out?” someone whispered. A few began to leave. One dancer, I think it was innocent-faced Sergeev, gave a nod and the dancers walked forward, arms linked, for yet another bow. Vishneva has refused to take bows before: at ABT’s opening night Met gala last year, she wouldn’t come out for her Sleeping Beauty curtain call. Ballet Talk talkers surmised she was upset about her performance. I didn’t see anything lacking in her performance and wondered whether it was just that she had to share the stage with two other dancers who played Sleeping Beauty (at the gala, they had three women dance the part for variety). I turned around to peek at Kevin McKenzie (ABT’s artistic director, who happened to be sitting behind me); he didn’t seem to have a clue as to what might be up either. I turned around and put on my coat. Some other orchestra members came out for some bows. Then another dancer group bow. The lady beside me excused herself and walked past me. I was just about to grab my bag and go when, finally, in what must have been a good fifteen minutes after the end of the last ballet, she emerged from the wings, bedecked in a velvety black, floor length gown with a several-foot-long train. But she didn’t just walk out onstage to the middle of the lined-up dancers; she walked around clear to the back of the stage, proceeded all the way around the row of dancers, went nearly into the opposite wings, and came around in front, prancing to the front of the stage and taking several very long, drawn-out bows. I think by that time all of our standing ovations and applause had long been spent on Richardson, and I heard several harrumphs of annoyance. I know it may be a Russian thing for the prima ballerinas to act like drama queens in taking their bows, and some may see it as a point of amusement for American audiences, but I think people were more confused and annoyed than entertained.

Anyway, the show’s worth seeing for the interesting choreography, the excellent guest dancers from the Kirov, and for Richardson. Go here for tix. Here are a couple of other write-ups from my fellow bloggers, Jolene and Art in California, who have different points of view regarding Vishneva, from me.


  1. That’s interesting that she took so long to come out when you saw her. I went on Thursday and while she certainly didn’t come out right away I didn’t really consider it an inordinate amount of time either. Or at least not much longer than it would take to change into that dress of hers, anyway. I think she’s an absolutely fascinating ballerina though, so I might be predisposed to put up with quirks. 🙂

  2. now that you say that, diana came out (very quickly for our performance) wearing a champagne ball gown. Odd, but it was a quick change so we didn’t think too much of it.

  3. I was at Thursday’s performance and I certainly would not call what she did “ballet”, though much of it was danced en pointe.

    Ms Vishneva did a very bold career move in taking on dance/movement which is far from her roots as a Maryinsky dancer. She clearly has / had an agenda to promote herself as a force to be reckoned with in the world of Dance.

    One can see how well trained she is, her body is completely under her control and she seems to be in love with is and how she can move. But she IS sharing her talent with us, ain’t she?

    There’s a collection of excellent prima ballerinas and many are comfortable rotating into the various classic roles in a repertory company. Diana obviously want to be more in control of her trajectory in the dance world and it would be impossible (probably) to stage more elaborate “classical” pieces so she chose to mount a serious of smaller scale contemporary dances.

    FLOW was gimmicky stuff which would appeal to children and the Cirque du Soleil crowd. There was some visually interesting stuff there and I am sure it was just fun to do. Ballet lovers would probably find it an amusing distraction from the “real deal”.

    The first piece was obscure and the dancing was not unexpected from what little I have seen of contemporary choreography. It was interesting at times, the costumes were off, and I did not see it as an especially good example of “Beauty in Motion”… or did the Beauty in the program title refer to Ms Vishneva, herself??? The spinning bead curtain was yet another visual trick as was the sloped mirror.

    The final piece left me exhausted and Desmond was a wonderful partner to her. Both of them with extremely hard sinuey bodies, her wite and female and long, his dark, male and compact. Vishneva’s body was in contrast to her female companions as was Desmond’s.

    I didn’t care much for the program and would have preferred to see her do a series of PDDs from classic work, but I am thrilled that she did this cross over work. She is a self promoter ain’t she? And a hat tip for her for all the hard work and risk taking.

    I didn’t care for the tattoo on her left hip bone. But “youths” seem to like adorning their body and she is definitely into her body.

    She is a stunning and talented classical ballerina and I look forward to seeing her this coming season with the ABT.

    The audience was more than half Russians. They seemed pleased.

  4. Tonya, I agree with you about ‘negative’ reviews, as long as they acknowledge the positives and has a higher goal of supporting the arts above all. Negative reviews that are mean or dismissive, however, do not serve any positive purpose and IMO, should be avoided. I hope my review was one that captured your curiosity?? 🙂

    I too agree with SanderO in that I would have preferred to have seen her do classical pdd’s, but that’s just my preference. I applaud her for taking a huge risk, at least it’s causing ripples in the dance world that’s bigger than her reputation.

    Desmond Richardson was a marvel, and I admit he was the tipping point that made me buy my ticket to see this show . I was lucky enough to sneak up to the second row after the first piece, and so it was thrilling to watch him dance so close.

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