Inside DM

10 Minutes With...Diana Vishneva

Ballet superstar Diana Vishneva keeps topping herself. While still a principal with both the Mariinsky Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, she has brought contemporary dance to Moscow in a big way. CONTEXT, her contemporary festival showcasing international choreographers and companies for Russian audiences, returns November 14–19. Now in its fourth year, CONTEXT, which is curated by Holland Dance Festival director Samuel Wuersten, will expand to St. Petersburg (a four-hour train ride away). Visiting companies include Béjart Ballet Lausanne, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Luzerner Theater, Canada's National Ballet School and Introdans. In addition, Ana Laguna will perform Axe, by Mats Ek, and Vishneva will perform a duet, with Aurélie Dupont, choreographed by Ohad Naharin. Dance Magazine editor at large Wendy Perron attended the festival two years ago and caught up with the ballerina through email, translated by Lisa Rozova.

Do you feel your audience for CONTEXT is changing?

The festival and the excitement around it grow each year. For the audience, CONTEXT has become a symbol of something new, unknown and interesting. We primarily attract young people, but the older generation shows their interest as well.

Why are you extending the festival to St. Petersburg?

We've been thinking about holding the festival in my hometown for a long time, and this year Valery Gergiev, the general director of the Mariinsky The-atre, made it possible. We have put a closing concert together, a mix of the best that CONTEXT has to offer. Those going to the opening gala in Moscow will want to see the closing gala in St. Petersburg.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet is the only group from the U.S. this year. What do you like about his work?

Alonzo King is very offbeat and interesting, magnetic. He often turns to folklore motifs. And you can always see a very deep choreographic handwriting in the way he raises the emotional attention of the viewer. The company has never been to Russia, but their neoclassical style is very close to Russian ballet.

Why did you decide to create a choreography competition as part of CONTEXT?

I'm very curious to plunge into the world of young choreographers, so different from mine. It enhances my knowledge about the current tendencies in Russian contemporary choreography. The festival keeps discovering more new choreographers and companies. When we see potential, we want to help them become world-class.

Mats Ek said in our March issue that he is retiring and does not want his dances performed anymore. Is he making an exception for


I could not have dreamed that such a brilliant choreographer would visit us, especially after he officially declared the end of his career. Last year Ana Laguna (his wife and muse) and I were together at a press conference in St. Petersburg. Maybe my thoughts found an echo in her heart. Ek is a person of absolute unattainable height; he is remarkably smart and has an outstanding personality. I hope we can offer a public talk with him and show his film with Ana Laguna and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Will you be able to take a few days off after this is over?

I hope that I will be able to take a break for a bit. But for me to relax doesn't mean to lie on a beach. I often go on a trip and meet interesting people, including choreographers—the ones who can leave you with new impressions, knowledge and emotions. n

Vishneva has announced that she will retire from American Ballet Theatre after the 2017 spring season, giving her final performance on June 23. She cites a desire to commit more time to her various projects (including CONTEXT) and will continue to perform with the Mariinsky.

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"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.

After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.

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In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."

She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."

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Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.

Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at

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