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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.
The revival of everything '90s has been in full-swing for a while now—we saw Destiny's Child reunite at Coachella, Britney Spears is headed back on tour, and the Spice Girls miiight be performing at the Royal wedding next month. But Hollywood saved the best '90s moment for last, bringing *NSYNC back together to receive their official star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 30.
Because we love a good dance #TBT, we're reliving five of the boys' best dance moments.
"I Want You Back"
The band's first single from their self-titled debut album in 1998, "I Want You Back," was the start of their takeover (and their choreographed dance moves).
Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
Gina Gibney runs two enormous dance spaces in New York City: Together they contain 23 studios, five performance spaces, a gallery, a conference room, a media lab and more. Gibney is now probably the largest dance center in the country. It's not surprising that Dance Magazine named Gina Gibney one of the most influential people in dance today.
One of the biggest myths about ballet dancers is that they don't eat. While we all know that, yes, there are those who do struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, most healthy dancers love food—and eat plenty of it to fuel their busy schedules.
Luckily for us, they're not afraid to show it:
What does a superstar like Carlos Acosta do after bidding farewell to his career in classical ballet? In Acosta's case, he returns to his native country, Cuba, to funnel his fame, connections and prodigious energies back into the dance scene that formed him. Because of its top-notch, state-supported training programs and popular embrace of the art of dance, Cuba is brimming with talented dancers. What it has been short on, until recently, are opportunities outside of the mainstream companies, as well as access to a more international repertoire. That is changing now, and, with the creation of Acosta Danza, launched in 2016, Acosta is determined to open the doors even wider to new ideas and audiences.
There's so much more to the dance world than making and performing dances. Arts administrators do everything from raising money to managing companies to building new audiences. With the growing number of arts administration programs in colleges, dancers have an opportunity to position themselves for a multifaceted career on- or offstage—and to bring their unique perspective as artists to administrative work.
While Solange was busy helping big sis Beyoncé give Coachella its best performances of all time, an equally compelling project was quietly circulating on Instagram:
New York City Ballet continues its first year without Peter Martins at the helm as our spring season opens tonight.
When he retired at the start of the new year, we plunged headfirst into unknown, murky waters. Who would the new director be? When would we know? Would we dancers get some say in the decision? Who would oversee the Balanchine ballets? Who would be in charge of casting? Would a new director bring along huge upheaval? Could some of us be out of a job?