Beautiful Vishneva, Poor Vishneva

February 27, 2008

Diana Vishneva is such a sublime dancer that you expect to be transported when you see her dance. Her own concert, “Beauty in Motion” at City Center (see our cover story this month) fell short. I guess if you are a choreographer who is commissioned to make a dance for this gorgeous creature, you have two choices: either challenge yourself to make a dance that brings out special qualities in her, or make your usual type dance and hope that she will fit into it. Well, all three chose the latter. Alexei Ratmansky’s Pierrot Lunaire seemed like something out of the 1940s, maybe like The Bright Stream, his dance about a collective farm—which I hasten to say I did not see. It was nice to have live music, but Schoenberg, let’s face it, is hard to dance to, and sooo reminiscent of an earlier period. The commedia dell’arte characters—three men plus Vishneva—were alternately cute and dramatic. The narrative thread of their relationships to each other had no continuity, so it came off as nonsensical. Vishneva looked delectable, but only after she shed her first layer of costume, which included a white skullcap. (Judging from these caps and the dreary pillbox hats for his Russian Seasons, Ratmansky has a thing for unflattering headgear.) Some of the ballet scholars delighted in this piece, but it struck me as just old-fashioned.

    Next came Moses Pendleton, who is always ingenious, but has no need of a world-class dancer. He created three little scenes and called them F.L.O.W. (For Love Of Women). The first was a clever black-light episode of a blue forearm that moved like a fish, eventually joined by its other half, its legs, and the limbs of two other dancers. Children or people who had never seen his work might oooh and aaah. The second had Vishneva twirling under a lampshade with long beaded tassels. The third and most spectacular placed her against a mirrored surface, so every shape of her sensational body was magnificently doubled.

    Dwight Rhoden’s piece Three Point Turn had her dancing the most. But naturally, Desmond Richardson, who partnered her, was more adept at Rhoden’s phrases, which are chock full of sudden changes, turn-ins, and leg extensions. Vishneva did not look particularly savvy or sexy or articulate in this environment, though she held her won, and the last kiss with Richardson was pretty great. It was the first simple thing. She leans toward him like she really wants it, and the other two couples are doing the same.

    When you see a great dancer, you want to feel that your knowledge or your vision is enlarged, but for those of us who have seen Vishneva dance, that didn’t happen.