Vishneva's Farewell: A Great Ballerina Leaves ABT
The entire audience cheered as they lifted their iPhones to capture the teary-faced Diana Vishneva's gratitude toward Marcelo Gomes.
Last Friday, the great Russian ballerina said goodbye to American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House. Vishneva and Gomes danced a powerful Onegin, and we didn't want to let them go. During the stream of greetings from her fellow principals that is part of the farewell tradition, Marcelo re-entered the stage, rushing to Vishneva to lift her up and spin her around. She instantly threw her arms open and her head back, as though saying, "I am free when I'm with you."
Vishneva is one of the most treasured ballerinas of our time. Her effect on audiences is spellbinding. As Tatiana in John Cranko's Onegin, she transformed from a shy, cruelly spurned girl to a woman torn by passion. As a young girl with a rich interior life, she moved slowly almost as though under water. As a married woman who suddenly has power over the man she had been hopelessly in love with, she is caught between splintered emotions.
Gomes and Vishneva
Her every step moved the story along. In the first act, her arabesque expressed pining for Onegin; the emboitées were agitation. Her parallel bourrées carried her toward Onegin involuntarily, as though fate were pulling her. Those quick, floating steps expressed the lines of Tatiana's letter to the man she loved. To quote Pushkin, the author of Onegin: "It is ordained by higher powers…It is heaven's will: I am yours."
When Gomes as Onegin slammed his hands on the desk in exasperation, he might as well have ripped her heart from her chest. Reeling from the violent rejection, Vishneva staggered around, utterly lost.
While Vishneva's portrayal of unrequited love was powerful, equally potent was the warmth of her sisterhood toward Olga. After Onegin kills his friend Lensky in a duel, Tatiana is so overcome with sympathy for her sister that she covers Olga with her body, trying to comfort her. Vishneva gives herself, body and soul, to the role.
In the last pas de deux, when Onegin begs the married Tatiana for her love, Vishneva melts in Gomes' embrace, almost willing to carry the weight of his regret. She is like the prow of a ship, tugging the barge that is Onegin. She knows that if she kisses him she will be lost and her happy life with Prince Gremin will be destroyed.
The last act, when Tatiana must resist Onegin
The role of Tatiana is one of the most taxing roles in ballet. As Evan McKie wrote in "Turning into Tatiana," in our March 2009 issue, the ballerina must have "the emotional maturity to make Tatiana's inner conflicts come alive."
Vishneva brings the turmoil of Tatiana's inner life vibrantly alive without ever exaggerating. Her simplest gesture is so true, so connected in mind, body and spirit that we never doubt her deepest feelings. We know what she's thinking, we know why she hesitates. We see her romantic desire in battle against her wiser self. In the last moments her chest is heaving with exhaustion, having banished her real love but knowing she came close to destroying herself, like a moth to a flame.
I think everyone in that audience felt gratitude to Vishneva for giving us a rich experience, brimming with emotion. And she felt gratitude toward Gomes, whom she circled with her arms while lowering herself to the floor in supplication, exactly the way Onegin circles Tatiana in the last act. During the parade of well wishers, the smallest person brought the largest flowers. Irina Kolpakova, revered coach at ABT, handed Vishneva big bright sunflowers. Vishneva bowed down to her, then spontaneously lifted her up.
Vishneva in center. to her left is Gomes, to his left is her coach Irina Kolpakova.
We will miss the ravishing Vishneva in roles like Tatiana, but she will not disappear from the dance world. She will continue to dance lead roles with the Mariinsky Ballet. In her "10 Minutes With" last fall she talked about her plans to expand her festival CONTEXT, which has brought contemporary dance to Moscow and St. Petersburg. To see this world-class ballerina rehearse in the studio, watch this beautiful video from The New Yorker.
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.