Diana Vishneva on Why Americans Are Wrong About Russia & Contemporary Dance
Part of the reason we chose international ballet star Diana Vishneva as one of our Dance Magazine Awardees this year is because she's always been an innovator. Before it was normal for ballet dancers to travel the world guesting for numerous companies, Vishneva, who began at the Mariinsky Ballet and later became a principal at American Ballet Theatre, was doing it. Today, she's opened a new chapter of her career by departing ABT and devoting more time to her CONTEXT Festival in Russia. But she's still innovating, commissioning her first original work for the festival this year and creating programming aimed at developing contemporary choreographers in Russia. We caught up with her to hear how the 2017 festival is shaping up:
Why did you choose Goyo Montero to create CONTEXT's first original commission?
I was always impressed by his choreographic style—a synthesis of classical and contemporary dance. It is so interesting to see him taking the classic plot of Cinderella or Romeo and Juliet and transforming it to fit the modern paradigm, discovering other meanings and telling these iconic stories in a completely new way. I think his style perfectly fits the artists of the Perm Opera and Ballet Theater who are going to perform his Asunder at the festival.
Is anything else new with the festival this year?
For its fifth year, we created a new logo and a filmed mini-performance already available on our website:
This year we also celebrate the 85th anniversary of the renowned Dutch choreographer Hans van Manen. We will treat the audience to one of his iconic works, Sarcasm, performed by the Dutch National Ballet. The international program features the Russian premiere of Nijinsky by Marco Goecke performed by Gauthier Dance Company, one of the favorites of the festival audience. Nijinsky's name is very meaningful to Russia, so it's interesting how this work will be perceived here.
The educational program has also evolved. Together with the British Council and Studio Wayne McGregor we've prepared a two-day workshop in Moscow for choreographers from all over Russia. They will get a chance to win a grant to develop and stage their own production in their hometown and an opportunity to complete an internship at Studio Wayne McGregor in London. As always, we will run a competition for young choreographers, which will be showcased for the first time in St. Petersburg. If in the first years of the festival we received 20-30 applications, mostly from Moscow and St. Petersburg, this year more than 100 of them came from all over the world. We are planning to bring the competition to America and other countries in the future. The competition is our pride, the unique educational and creative product of the festival.
What's your vision for the festival for the next few years?
We are going to show The Room by Olga Vasilieva, the winner of the 2016 choreography competition, as well as Asunder by Goyo Montero at the Holland Dance Festival in January 2018. We are planning to expand our educational program. Currently the festival has two directions, one includes workshops for dancers and choreographers, and the second focuses on future dance critics and ballet photographers. Next year, we'll launch a series of lectures for stage designers and a special workshop for dancers about injury prevention and how to quickly get in shape after recovery. I am pleased to see that our young critics and photographers that went through our workshops are already published not only in blogs and social networks, but they take pictures and write for leading theaters, newspapers and magazines.
How are you liking being in the director position?
I don't think that I can like or not like the position. I mostly feel huge responsibility for everything that happens in the life of the festival. When I dance, I'm in charge only of myself, and being a festival's director is a completely different story. I take part in every aspect of its organization: I participate in the selection of participants of our international program, in the finalists of the competition of young choreographers and in the development of the film program.
How has your experience as a dancer informed your role as a director?
The fact that I'm often on tour allows me to see many premieres and get acquainted with new names. In the west, there is an opinion that in Russia we are far behind in the sphere of awareness of contemporary dance. Believe me, this is far from the truth. In recent years, also thanks to our CONTEXT Festival, almost all leading companies of modern dance have visited Russia.
How do you balance your role as director with performing?
The CONTEXT Festival came to me very gradually. It's impossible to wake up one morning and suddenly decide to run your own festival. For example, the first 10 years of my life at the Mariinsky Theater were devoted to mastering the classical repertoire. But I always knew that I wanted to explore more. And when I reached a certain level, I went further. That is how I started my solo modern dance projects. These gave me a completely different understanding of dance. I remember when I once was at the festival of Pina Bausch in Wuppertal and I thought that such a festival, where both professionals and amateurs create together, would be so wanted in Russia! And a few years later I managed to transform that idea into reality. I have done a lot in my artistic life and I am now ready to share my experience. Together with my colleagues we create the history of contemporary dance in Russia.
What advice would you give to dancers interested in moving into a leadership role?
Set a clear goal and understand what do you need to develop in yourself to achieve it. Starting any business is only possible with a loyal team and self-confidence. Don't be afraid of difficulties or uncertainty whether you will succeed or not, or whether your initiative finds support or not. In our profession, we are accustomed to difficulties and by overcoming them you understand that you have no boundaries, and you are truly free in what you do.
You know Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as the men who parody your favorite ballet variations—and make it look good. But there's more to the iconic troupe than meets the eye.
A new documentary, Rebels on Pointe, goes behind the scenes of the company, and it's full of juicy tidbits about what it's like to be a Trock. These were some of our favorite moments:
After 30 years of pioneering work in physically integrated dance, AXIS Dance Company co-founder Judith Smith has announced plans to retire from the Oakland, California, company. Throughout her tenure, she strived to get equal recognition for integrated dance and disabled dancers, commissioning work from high-profile choreographers like Bill T. Jones. Her efforts generated huge momentum for expanded training, choreography, education and advocacy for dancers with disabilities.
By phone from her home in Oakland, Smith reflected on how far the field has evolved since the early days of AXIS, and what's yet to be done.
You know that how you care for your body before curtain can impact your performance. But with so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to nail down an exact routine. How much rest is enough? How close to showtime should you eat? We asked the experts.
How do you make your athleisure collection stand out from the pack? Get the ultimate studio-to-street seal of approval by having dancers star in your campaign, of course.
For his second collaboration with activewear brand Carbon38, ready-to-wear designer Jonathan Simkhai traded in his usual top models like Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss for the original Hiplet dancers—and the resulting video is as cool as we'd expect from such a fierce collaboration.
To be honest, we never tire of watching non-dancers tackle a day in the life of the pros. From athletes to average Joes, these videos always give us a good laugh, and they remind the rest of the world that a whole lot of work goes into every dance performance you see. But often times, these dancer-for-a-day videos don't fully understand the importance of training (i.e., you can't just throw on a pair of pointe shoes and give it a go).
That's why we're especially loving this video by Refinery29 that actually gets it. Lucie Fink, host of the R29 YouTube series Lucie For Hire , got a private lesson from American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, and it was endlessly entertaining.
Who are you when you no longer do what you've been doing for years?
It is the big question facing anyone who retires. For top ballet dancers, however, the situation is more extreme. They start young, grow up in a rarified atmosphere, mostly see only each other, and become more and more removed from ordinary life. So what is it like to give this all up?
I asked seven former principal dancers from different generations at San Francisco Ballet, including myself, about this challenge.
Again and again, dance teaches me that when the filters fall away between people—when the boundaries of geography, religion and politics soften—the beginning and end of our relationships is always human.
In March, I traveled with Keigwin + Company to Cote D'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Tunisia, on a tour sponsored by the US State Department and facilitated by DanceMotion USA/Brooklyn Academy of Music. Our mission was cultural diplomacy: Simply, to share ourselves with diverse communities, to promote common understanding and friendships.
Our last stop was Tunisia. Until that point, we had mostly been learning varieties of traditional African dance, and sharing American modern dance. But Tunisia was different. The dancers already had a solid grasp of contemporary movement invention. Though we didn't speak the same language, we could make movement vocabulary with surprising ease. Everything about our backgrounds was different, but there was this special intersection through dance that seemed to present an open door to collaboration.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.
Christopher Wheeldon's new Nutcracker for the Joffrey Ballet was huge news when it premiered last winter. The choreographer shifted the setting from the home of a well-off German family to the Chicago world's fair, making the hero the young daughter of a working-class, Polish immigrant sculptress. This month, WTTW Chicago, the city's public broadcasting station, will premiere Making a New American Nutcracker, a new documentary showing how Wheeldon and his high-profile collaborators made the magic happen. Premieres on WTTW11 and wttw.com/watch on Nov. 16 before appearing on public television stations across the country. Check your local listings.
For most dancers, walking into the theater elicits a familiar emotion that's somewhere between the reverence of stepping into a chapel and the comfort of coming home. But each venue has its own aura, and can offer that something special that takes your performance to a new level. Six dancers share which theaters have transported them the most.
GLENN ALLEN SIMS
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Glenn Allen Sims in Alvin Ailey's Masekela Langage. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy AAADT
Favorite theater: Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain
Royal details: "The theater is gorgeous and ornate, with deep red upholstery and gold trim. There is a huge royal box in the center, which takes you back to when kings and queens were watching performances there."
Impressive facilities: Even the dressing rooms are a sight to see: Amenities for the dancers include large, carpeted rooms, and towel service.
The business side of dance can often fall second to the art. Contracts, which usually appear after you've done the hard work of securing a job, can seem like an inconsequential afterthought. You might decide to simply sign without reading the terms—or be understandably confused by all the legalese.
Ultimately, though, contracts can play an important part in setting the expectations for your job. A basic understanding of the legal terms you might see can go a long way in making sure that signing is a positive step toward growing your career.