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.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.