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.
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series
The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!
We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"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.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
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."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
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."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.
Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you:
Conscientious theatergoers may be familiar with The School for Scandal, The School for Wives and School of Rock. But how many are also aware of the school of Fosse?
The 1999 musical, a posthumous exploration of the choreographic career of Bob Fosse, ran for 1,093 performances, winning four Tonys and 10 nominations; employing 32 dancers; and, completely unintentionally, nurturing a generation of Broadway choreographers. You may have heard of them: Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo danced in the original cast, Josh Rhodes was a swing, and Christopher Gattelli replaced Trujillo when he landed choreography jobs in Massachusetts and Canada. Blankenbuehler remembers that when Trujillo left, "It was as if he was graduating."
January 16 might as well be a Broadway holiday. Three gigantic names were born on this day, in 1908, 1950 and 1980, and they represent three distinct eras of powerhouse musicals. Without them, there'd be no belting Reno Sweeney, no "Fame"-ous Lydia Grant and no rapping Alexander Hamilton. Happy birthday to these indelible superstars.