Acclaimed in Berlin, adored in New York (where she dances with American Ballet Theatre), admired in Japan, and now about to return to London with her home company, the Mariinsky, she is quite simply a phenomenon. Seeing her a decade ago I described Vishneva as virtuosic and versatile, brave and beautiful, game for anything and generous to her audience. Today, all that is true and more.
As the Kirov the company came to London in 1961. Now, 50 years later, the atmosphere is very different from the 1960s cloak and dagger political climate. Now a journalist from the Times can sit down and chat with a dancer without a KGB agent behind her shoulder.
Here’s what Vishneva told Craine:
“In those days it was a special event. Today it’s not unusual to dance abroad. In fact, we take it for granted. Of course I’m lucky; I didn’t have to leave my theatre to perform around the world.”
“Dancing with other companies is important to an artist. Everyone has to have their own frame, it’s important to create it and keep it forever. What I got from my frame, the Mariinsky, I can bring to others. But sometimes you can feel too tight in that frame and you need to step out of it. In the past ten years I have been very free to step out of mine.”
“Very different styles are hard on your body. But every ballet opens up a different world and you can bring this new information to other productions so it has an effect on all your performances. After every performance I change, I become a different person. My vision is always changing.”
“I’m lucky to have had the teachers I did at the school; I feel I have got so much to pass on to the next generation. But the world has changed, the system of education and preparation has changed. The new generation dances so much contemporary choreography, the kind we could only dream about. But our company focuses on the classical and, although dancers are more prepared technically, something on a spiritual level is missing in their performances. Dance should not be about movement as technique, it should be about movement as meaning. I did Swan Lake later than most people because I needed my mind to understand what I was dancing. Nowadays they come out of school and in a couple of weeks they are dancing Swan Lake.”
“I will never lose [the Russian style]. What I do is add missing elements from other parts of the world.”
“I feel such a power on stage. I can wrap the choreography around myself and I feel as if I can control everything. My eyes are constantly working 360 degrees. I live on stage, and try to understand every aspect of what happens on it. I couldn’t imagine having such control in my own life.”
Does she want to choreograph? “You have to feel it from a young age and I never had the impulse. I understand things as a ballerina; choreographers travel a different road. I’m happy for other people’s choreography to pass through my mind and my body to help to create something unique.”
The Mariinsky treat her well: “People ask me why I don’t leave the Mariinsky and I tell them that I don’t have to. I’m exceptionally lucky, I know that.”
But she understands the company’s limitations: “For us, as a classical company, the past is always with us and it’s important to preserve it, but not as a museum full of dust. We need fresh air to breathe; we need new productions and we need to refresh our repertoire to learn more. The Bolshoi has Jorma Elo and Wayne McGregor, while other companies in Russia are acquiring and commissioning work from the West too. But the Mariinsky is falling behind. They have lost Forsythe, Neumeier, Béjart and Petit from the repertoire, and acquiring Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not a big step forward. There is no concept of development at the Mariinsky.
I see colleagues ending their careers without doing anything new. So I try to do what I can to help audiences and dancers see that the dance world is not so narrow.”
Read Debra Craine’s article here.
Photo: Diana Vishneva in La Bayadère with the ABT – by MIRA. She will dance Nikiya on August 12 with Anastasia Kolegova and Igor Zelensky
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.