Sunday, February 24, 2008

Diana Vishneva: Beauty in Motion

Well at least the dancers were good. Good performers in work that didn't do them justice seems to have been a theme for my week.

I find Diana Vishneva to be a fascinating ballerina. Standing still she can look kind of, well, knobby and wiry and then she begins to dance and she has such fluidity and strength, such purpose and conviction behind her movement. She's spectacularly beautiful. So I was excited to see her doing her own show. Unfortunately, while I think it's wonderful that she took risks in terms of the choreography she danced, it didn't really show her strengths the way one would have hoped.

The first piece, Alexei Ratmansky's Pierrot Lunaire is by far the most ambitious and, I think, the one that was most tailored to the skill of its dancers. The Shoenberg song cycle is based on commedia dell'arte, which isn't really my thing, and it doesn't seem terribly danceable. Certainly Ratmansky--whose Middle Duet I love, incidentally--didn't set himself an easy task. But without being able to understand the German text of the songs it's essentially impossible to follow the action which doesn't seem particularly organized or musical. Things happen and then other things happen, the dancers play one commedia dell'arte character and then another, and it's all spectacularly confusing. One could survive the inability to understand the text if the choreography seemed to follow its own internal logic, but that's not the case. There's all sorts of interesting movement and Ratmansky is an innovative choreographer, but somehow it never seemed to come together into a cohesive whole this time around. The traditionally balletic movement didn't quite mesh with the more stylized, non-ballet movement. There also didn't seem to be enough differentiation, in the choreography to reflect the changing moods of the poems (as explained in the program). It just kind of mushed together endlessly.

The real shame is that of all the pieces I think Ratmansky's is the one with the most potential to be something more than a pretty or clever dance. There are ideas there. They're just not properly articulated and thus, instead of being fascinating, watching it becomes incredibly tedious. There was a young girl in front of us, small enough that she was sitting on her mother's lap so she could see and in the first intermission I mentioned to Wendy that I was shocked that she'd sat through it so quietly, which is more than I would have done at 7 or so. Wendy said that she was shocked that she'd been able to sit through it.

The middle section, F.L.O.W. (For Love of Women), choreographed by Moses Pendleton, was the most entertaining and the clear crowd pleaser. (Side note: I hate the title.) At the same time though it was divided into three parts and only one of those parts seemed to use Vishneva's particular skills.

In the first part Vishneva and two other ballerinas used their limbs, illuminated by black lights, to make various shapes. The piece started with only one arm revealed and then one arm of each ballerina, followed by one leg (from the knee down) and so on and so forth. Some of the shapes: swans, a tiny ballerina made out two arms and two legs, a larger ballerina made entirely of arms, were interesting. Others were less so. The real issue is that it doesn't make use of Vishneva's talents. It's fun and a bit witty but it hardly requires one of the best and most fascinating ballerinas in the world.

The second part featured Vishneva alone, in a nude colored bodysuit, on a mirrored surface. As she stretches and contorts, her body changing shape, the reflection also distorts. It's the only piece of the three where Pendleton actually uses her physicality, the pliancy of her body, to create something original. It's her body and what she can do with it that matters, instead of what you can do with some black lights of a prop.

The final part of this second section features Vishneva wearing a sort of beaded curtain/dress. As she spins the beads flare out creating different shapes as she alters the way she moves. It's a beautiful effect. It's enjoyable to watch. It just doesn't use Vishneva's particular skills anymore than the bit with the black lights did. There are any number of people who could have done it.

The final piece was Three Point Turn, choreographed for Vishneva and Desmond Richardson and was not much better than the first although for different reasons. Ratmansky was aiming for something interesting and unusual in his choreography. The work wasn't successful but it was ambitious. Three Point Turn was more cohesive and less confusing but seemed to me like a bunch of ballet/modern cliche. And I'm a new dance viewer so I feel like it's a problem when I go to see something and feel like I'm seeing something I've seen too many times before. Particularly when it wasn't interesting the first time.

It didn't feel like there was any modulation in the tone of the piece. All the movement was hard and exaggerated. The whole piece becomes incredibly monotonous. Dwight Rhoden had these wonderful dancers at his disposal and gave them something that is athletic but not much else.

So in the end it was a disappointing evening that really didn't showcase Vishneva. I don't mean that Vishneva needed to be the sole star of everything she danced. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to see other artists featured as well, like Igor Kolb (in Pierrot Lunaire) and Desmond Richardson. But the choreography didn't really showcase them either. It's too bad, really.

All photos were stolen from the New York Times slideshow.

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