NYC Review/Diana Vishneva: Beauty in Motion

This is Part II of my NYC dance reviews from the past weekend. Click here to read Part I, about the acrobatic show Traces.

Last Sunday, I had a chance to see the last performance of Diana Vishneva's much-anticipated one-woman show at City Center. Hailed as one of the finest ballerinas of our time, Vishneva projects the sort of stage presence and ur-femininity that is hard not to describe using adjectives like “radiant” and “lovely.” In Diana Vishneva: Beauty in Motion, she presented a polished exploration of—and paean to—the human body, clearly relishing the opportunity to break free of the classical idiom and test her own creativity (not to mention star power). It was a fascinating, if uneven, experiment.

Several other dance editors attended the performance I went to, and they were both baffled and put off by the first piece, Alexei Ratmansky’s poignant interpretation of Schoenberg’s turn-of-the-20th-century score, Pierrot Lunaire. I agree it’s not easy to like atonal music. Add to that a soprano performing in the loony-sounding “sprechstimme” style of half-singing, half-speaking, and you’d be forgiven for wanting to tune out.

That sense of disorientation, however, was key to Schoenberg’s dark vision of a world that, shadowed by the specter of World War I, was increasingly hard to make sense of. His Pierrot was a tragic figure—a hapless innocent at the mercy of society and a stand-in for the alienated artist out of sync with his times. In Ratmansky’s incarnation, Schoenberg’s archetypal “sad clown” was embodied by three male dancers, dressed in white with white-painted faces. Vishneva, wearing a mustard-colored tunic with her face also painted white, played Columbine, Pierrot’s love interest, as a sort of fin-de-siècle coquette.

Hats off to Ratmansky, who nailed the unsettling confusion and violence of the music with jarring shifts in tone. His three Pierrots were alternately fey and menacing, while Vishneva’s Columbine was at times coy and flirty, and at others, capricious and cruel. Their hammy expressions, often wildly inappropriate for the action at hand (big smiles after what looked like a choking death, for example), conveyed the chaos of a world in which feelings and actions have lost their connection.

Pierrot Lunaire was followed by a trio of mini-works by Moses Pendleton collectively titled F.L.O.W. (For Love of Women). Sure, Pendleton’s usual gimmickry was on display, but particularly in the middle part, Vishneva proved a one-of-a-kind collaborator. That segment provided the single most arresting sight I’ve seen on a dance stage this season: As the curtain went up to the strains of a seductive, synth-heavy score, a glistening expanse of white silk was slowly pulled away to stage right, revealing Vishneva, clad only in a nude-colored leotard, lying sideways on a mirrored ramp. Gasps could be heard from the audience.

For the next 20 minutes, she rolled up and down the ramp, twisting and contorting. One moment, she looked like a sculpture; the next, a grotesque insect, a Rorschach blot come to life. It was a terrific little gem that disoriented in order to reorient us to the power of what the body can do (and what a body!).

Dwight Rhoden concluded the evening with a piece called Three Point Turn. Unfortunately, it was both obnoxious and interminable (although I know others disagreed). At least for me, ennui set in almost immediately, as Vishneva and Desmond Richardson took the stage with two other couples, ostensibly to plumb the uncharted depths of “the sometimes complicated courses that romantic relationships take” (per Rhoden’s incoherent program synopsis). The four “back-up dancers” were clearly extraneous, unless they were supposed to distract from the emptiness of the choreography and ear-piercing music. Indeed, Vishneva and Richardson’s moments alone were the only times the piece ever came close to cohering.

Nonetheless, it was a rewarding performance, and an enjoyable weekend of dance overall. Stay tuned as we bring you more impromptu performance reviews from NYC and beyond!

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