For years, Diana Vishneva seemed to be an exotic creature who landed in New York City: If we held our collective breath long enough, perhaps she wouldn't fly away. But last June, this Russian ballerina did just that after delivering her farewell performance of Onegin with American Ballet Theatre, where she had been a principal since 2005. Her wild passion, her musicality and her ability to hold nothing back made her classical dancing all the more thrilling.
Vishneva got her start at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg. Seven years later she won the Prix de Lausanne, and in 1995, she joined the Mariinsky Ballet, with whom she gave her first major performances in New York City. In 2001, she began her guest artist career, performing with La Scala Ballet, the Paris Opéra Ballet, Staatsballett Berlin and others over the years.
For dancers today, guesting is a common practice, but Vishneva, 41, was among the first of her generation to do so. Even so, that was never part of a master plan.
"I was dancing a lot with Vladimir Malakhov in Europe and Russia, and he opened me to thinking how important and great it is to be able to be a guest star," she says. "Right now people move around so much easier, but back in the day it was very exclusive."
Presently Vishneva is back in Russia working on CONTEXT, her dance festival that aims to both present contemporary choreography and to encourage new talent. She also recently opened CONTEXT Pro, a dance studio in St. Petersburg.
Vishneva says she will continue to perform with the Mariinsky and as a guest artist. Even now, she wants her dancing to move people, to make them think about who they are and what is happening in their lives. "It's the way I use my instrument to deliver to the audience what I'm exploring," she says. "I'm not just 'Diana Vishneva,' a big name. I work hard and I never stop, and I hope I'm going forward. It's not because I am talented."
She pauses. "Yes—there is some of that. But talent doesn't work if you're not a hard worker and through this, it opens something. Little by little. It's like flowers. And you want more. You want to open more flowers to find a different way. There's no limit. For me, it's important if I feel the limit. That's the end."
Has she ever felt it? She laughs. "That's why I continue."
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