Pregnancy Was Diana Vishneva's "Only Chance to Take A Rest." Now She's Back and Busier Than Ever.

Diana Vishneva has had a very big year. In 2017, she retired from American Ballet Theatre, performing Onegin with the company one last time, accompanied by her longtime partner Marcelo Gomes. Then, in September, she opened a ballet studio in her home city of St. Petersburg called CONTEXT Pro. Soon after, she marked the fifth edition of her festival of contemporary dance, CONTEXT, with two weeks of performances, workshops and talks in Moscow and St. Petersburg. But the biggest event came several months later, with the birth of her first child. (As she points out with some satisfaction, the timing was perfect—she didn't have to cancel a single engagement.)

The pregnancy allowed Vishneva to step back from an international career that has kept her constantly on the move for the better part of the last two decades. The ballet world receded from her consciousness, but not for long. We spoke in New York, where she resides part of the year, just as she was gearing up for the first of a series of performances and projects. The day after our chat, her son would turn 100 days old.


Congratulations on your new baby! Has the name been made public?

It came out in Russian social media; it's Rudolf Victor.

Does the name have any particular significance for you?

Victor is my father's name, and it has been a lucky patronymic for me.

How has it been for you, coming back from the pregnancy?

I've seen how a lot of ballerinas do class and work well into their pregnancy and how quickly they return after giving birth. But the doctors did not allow me to do this, and even after the birth I was not allowed to practice for six weeks. So as it happened I didn't do anything for 10 months. It was perhaps the only chance in my life I've had to take a rest. Now this has been a very interesting time because in a sense you start over from the beginning. Of course the muscle memory is there, but you need to get back the muscles. It's a very slow process. But I know my body very well, so it's interesting to analyze and start putting things back together. You even have the opportunity to correct certain problems.

What has been your routine in the last few months?

After those first six weeks I did not run back to ballet class. First I went to Pilates. When I was dancing I did not need Pilates, because I got what I needed through dancing. And I didn't want to do it, despite the advice of several people around me. Then I started doing some fitness activities, very light weights, to gain back my strength. And only after that did I go back to class. I've been working with Nancy Bielski at Steps on Broadway for 15 years, since Vladimir Malakhov introduced me to her. Also I have regular massages and I swim whenever I find an hour. It's not easy with a child.

You'll be returning to the stage soon—what is your first engagement?

I'll be dancing Ohad Naharin's Boléro at the Paris Opéra Ballet, with Aurélie Dupont, in late September. We performed it together at my festival, CONTEXT, in 2016. Then, when Aurélie was named director of the Paris Opéra, Ohad said, I want you to dance this in Paris in 2018. But I didn't know then that I would be a mother.

Will you be taking Gaga classes ahead of that performance?

Yes! I'm going to Paris on September 17 and we'll work for 10 days.

Naharin is also coming to the CONTEXT festival this year, isn't he?

Yes, Batsheva Dance Company will be coming and Ohad and I will be leading a series of master classes and public talks. The National Ballet of Canada is also coming, with a repertoire of new works; it's the largest company we've ever invited. [They'll be performing Paz de la Jolla by Justin Peck; Emergence by Crystal Pite; and Guillaume Côté's Being and Nothingness.] And of course we'll be holding the choreographic competition for young choreographers.

The festival seems to be expanding?

Yes, we're doing things in other cities besides Moscow and St. Petersburg now, like Yekaterinburg and Perm. Next March we'll be bringing programs to Tel Aviv and London's Sadler's Wells. And maybe in a year we'll bring something to New York.

One thing I've heard you express often is your love of St. Petersburg. What is it about this city?

The people who live in St. Petersburg are absolutely different from the ones who live in Moscow. I think we are saturated by the architecture, the atmosphere, the culture. It's in our DNA. I went to the oldest and greatest school in St. Petersburg, worked at the Mariinsky, a theater with the most wonderful traditions. I live in a magical city. I don't know how to even put that into words, it's almost a physical part of me. With my art and my work I hope I can make a microscopic contribution to its magical beauty.

What about your latest project, Sleeping Beauty Dreams, this multimedia collaboration with the architect Rem Khass? What is it exactly?

Rem Khass and I started thinking about it a couple of years ago. At some point I thought, I need to do something radically different. I started meeting people from the technology and art world. The idea is not to retell the Sleeping Beauty story—it's about what is happening to the character of Aurora, inside her head, while she's sleeping for 100 years. She has all these dreams. The world of dreams is unique, so it doesn't have to be confined by time or space.

The story of Sleeping Beauty is very black and white, about good and evil. Our idea is that both good and evil exist within her, and they fight each other. We're going to create digital characters who exist exclusively in the virtual world. They will come alive and interact with me. So I will have virtual partners. [The show opens on Dec. 7 in Miami and then comes to New York on Dec. 14.]

In an odd intersection of art and politics, a person involved in promoting the show early on, Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign aide, was recently interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Were you surprised?

He was once part of the marketing team but is no longer involved. He originally told the team that he had put his political career behind him, but when it turned out not to be so, there was a collective decision to part ways.

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What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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