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Mariinsky Stars and Desmond Richardson Dazzle in Diana Vishneva's "Beauty in Motion"

by Tonya Plank
February 22, 2008
New York City Center
130 West 56th Street
(Audience Entrance is on West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
(Entrance for Studios and Offices is on West 56th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues)
New York, NY 10019
212.247.0430
From February 21-24, 2008, ballet star Diana Vishneva, a principal dancer with both American Ballet Theater and Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia, brought a delightful three-ballet program to New York's City Center. Joining her were soloist dancers from the Mariinsky, and Desmond Richardson of Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

The first ballet of the evening was "Pierrot Lunaire," by Russian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, who is well known to New York audiences. The ballet consisted of 21 segments, each dramatizing in dance a piece of music by Arnold Schoenberg, which is itself a depiction in song of poems by Albert Giraud about a set of centuries-old characters from Italian dell'arte theater, namely a clown named Pierrot who, under the light of the moon, has fantasies – some sexual, some religious, some violent — that nearly drive him to madness. Other characters involved in his fantasies are Columbine, the object of Pierrot's affections, the arrogant Harlequin who thwarts his romantic ambitions with Columbine, and Cassander, a doctor. The four dancers — Vishneva, Igor Kolb, Mikhail Lobukhin, and Alexander Sergeev – all from the Mariinsky, alternated dancing the different roles. Costumes, by Tatiana Chernova, were dirty beige, ripped, painter-type pants and tops, Vishneva's bearing a short skirt as if to indicate her gender. The clown's costume was indicated by a cone-shaped dunce cap.

The problem with this ballet is that it did not seem to progress anywhere in its approximate thirty minutes. This may have been due to the dancers' constantly changing parts, making it difficult to connect with any of the characters, at times making it hard even to determine which character was which and what he or she was doing to the others. There was a lot of miming and exaggerated, clownish facial expressions combined with equally exaggerated, awkward, angular body movements, all conveying a host of strong emotional states: sad, happy, flirtatious, sexed-up, angry, or crazed. But the characters never acquired any real depth because they shifted too quickly between these forced emotions. The only exception to this was Alexander Sergeev, whose thin body enabled him to make more contorted, hyperbolic shapes, and who took a bit more time more with his poses, giving his caricatures greater pathos than the other dancers.

The second piece was F.L.O.W ("For Love of Women") by modern dance choreographer Moses Pendleton, founder of Pilobolus and Momix, which showcased Vishneva's ability make imaginative shapes with her body. This dance was divided into three segments, the first of which consisted of she and two other dancers sitting on a dark stage, only their limbs illuminated with a haunting bluish light. They made various humorous shapes, at first dancing lizards, at times a couple of goose heads yapping at each other, later a dancer's body but, with arms for legs and legs for arms, making the dancer into a kind of jumping jack.

The next segment of F.L.O.W. consisted of Vishneva, performing alone, reclined on a large mirror, the back of which was raked so that the audience was treated to a magical double effect of her shape-shifting body. She slowly changed positions, lifting an arm here, a leg here, pointing then flexing toes, rolling from her back to her stomach, arching her back, then curving it around to make a concave, then squatting. At times she resembled a crab, at times a swan, at times nothing in particular, just a beautiful image. At the end, to the sound of bubbling water, she fell off the back, the creature becoming one with its surroundings.

In the third F.L.O.W. segment, Vishneva wore a beaded headdress and spun repeatedly using different speeds and rhythms to make various shapes with the airborne material. To the beautiful, mesmerizing, Indian music, "The Moola Mantra," by Deva Premal, Vishneva, turned at times in a slow, smooth circular Samba-style volta, giving a kind of Middle-Eastern expressiveness to her wrists, hands and arms. But she did this without reverting to silly stereotypes of "The Nutcracker" variety, instead remaining soft, supple, and subtle with her rotating wrists and splayed fingers.

The third and final ballet was Dwight Rhoden's "Three Point Turn," a modern ballet depicting, according to the program notes, the stages of male / female relationships, performed by Vishneva and Desmond Richardson as the main couple, and the two background couples danced by Mikhail Lobukhin and Ekaterina Ivannikova, and Alexander Sergeev and Maria Shevyakova. The music was industrial, heavy on percussion, and evoked mostly violence. There was a great deal of hyper-extended kicks and arabesque penchées and throughout each partner would hurl herself or himself at the other, giving much of the dance a kind of disturbingly erotic character. It ended, however in a more softly romantic tone, as the couples each locked in an embrace, their lips touching. Richardson had two breathtaking solos, which he performed brilliantly. He has the training of a classical ballet dancer but nevertheless excels at the flexed-foot angularity of modern. He received a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience during curtain call. The other dancer who impressed most in this piece was Lobukhin, whose muscular body along with his unruly blonde hair, innocent face and very pointed toes which allowed him to make beautiful lines, created a kind of androgynous figure, making his masculine character a little less frighteningly virile. If it was not for the excellent dancers, however, the choreography in this ballet would have been too one-note to hold the audience's attention for long. Overall, though some of the ballets in this program worked better than others, the evening was full of variety and surprises, and brought together some excellent dancers.
Diana Vishneva and Avenhsiv Anaid in FLOW (Glass Awakening)

Diana Vishneva and Avenhsiv Anaid in FLOW (Glass Awakening)

Photo © & courtesy of Nina Alovert


Diana Vishneva in FLOW (Waters Flower)

Diana Vishneva in FLOW (Waters Flower)

Photo © & courtesy of Nina Alovert


Desmond Richardson & Diana Vishneva in Three Point Turn

Desmond Richardson & Diana Vishneva in Three Point Turn

Photo © & courtesy of Nina Alovert

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