Vishneva Stretches—As Far as She Can; City Ballet Up, Down in Perma-Crisis

Why would the world’s foremost classical ballerina choose to turn up in New York leading a small company performing three works newly choreographed on and for her? Idealism? Vanity? Artistic ambition? Chutzpah? Her program was called “Beauty in Motion,” a real misnomer. How about “Vishneva Goes Contempo”? Or “A Long Night at the City Center”?

We know that Diana Vishneva is a phenomenon of strength and style, and she certainly has earned the right to stretch her talents as best she can. But what she proved with this program is that although she’s a nonpareil Odette-Odile and Giselle, she isn’t equally at home in Alexei Ratmansky, Moses Pendleton and Dwight Rhoden.

Most interesting by far was the Ratmansky—a noble but futile effort to choreograph to Schoenberg’s unyielding song cycle Pierrot Lunaire. Its four dancers—Vishneva and three superb men from the Kirov, Igor Kolb, Mikhail Lobukhin and Alexander Sergeev—gave their all in an attempt to vivify this exercise in Expressionist commedia dell’arte, but it doesn’t (because it couldn’t) work. All that white-face, all that angst! Ratmansky shows again how accomplished he is—how fluent and sincere, nothing tricksy—and Vishneva’s supple dancing streams onward without hesitation or doubt: She’s a master. But although she’s generously placed herself at the service of her musical and imaginative choreographer, one can’t help wishing Ratmansky had created for her something less thorny and more grateful.

The Pendleton effort—F.L.O.W. (For Love of Women)—is what you would expect from one of the founders of Pilobolus and the leader of MOMIX: ingenuity piled on ingenuity. In part one we never see the three dancers, only their feet and hands in luminescent blue against black, making recognizable shapes—a face, a heart, birds in flight and nesting. It’s fun, or would have been at half its length. Think updated Alwin Nikolais. Parts two and three were solos for Madame. In part two, she’s prone, acting out her appetites on a tilted mirror, so that everything doubles up horizontally: four legs, four arms, two heads. It’s narcissism squared. Again, it’s clever, and again it quickly wears out its welcome. In part three, she’s inside a huge construction of strings of beads, which she whirls and twirls around and around to marginally amusing effect. Any one of a score of talented dancers could have done it just as well.

The Rhoden, called Three Point Turn, was the worst of it, its movement, according to Rhoden, “meant to represent the machinations of the mind, body, and spirit when falling in love.” In other words, it’s the usual slam-bang, bang-bang gang-bang. It spotlights three couples, the central one Vishneva and Desmond Richardson, whose massive glamour looks more and more studied as the years and decades roll on. Rhoden springs from Alvin Ailey, Richardson springs from Alvin Ailey, but Vishneva and friends spring from Russia. She—unflatteringly costumed and sporting a misguided hairstyle that accomplished the impossible by making her look homely—tried to Get Down. It was a sad mismatch. The poor boys looked like escapees from Spartacus and the girls looked stunned by culture-warp.

When Vishneva stretches to Balanchine neo-classicism in “Rubies,” she’s magnificent. The “Beauty in Motion” program wasn’t stretching, it was sagging.

 

CITY BALLET ENDED its 14-week winter marathon with the usual bewildering roller-coaster ride of triumphs, disasters and bewilderments. Most of the bewilderments were avoidable—they’re a direct result of the company’s recent policy of theme-organized programming.

It’s because they’ve concocted an “American Songs and Dances” program that we get a parade of songs by Rodgers and Hart (abominably sung, in Peter Martins’ sub-pastiche Thou Swell), immediately followed by another parade of songs in Ives, Songs, that Tudoresque exercise in nostalgia by Jerome Robbins.

It’s because they’ve dreamed up a concept inexplicably called “Passages” that we get two very long and frequently lugubrious works in a row, Ratmansky’s Russian Seasons directly following Mauro Bigonzetti’s Oltremare (Beyond the Sea)—and this at a Saturday matinee presumably in hope of a family audience. (The third Passage was Christopher Wheeldon’s An American in Paris, that comic-strip version of the Gershwin score and Gene Kelly movie, in which Damian Woetzel proves yet again that Dorian Gray has no monopoly on the secret of eternal youth.)

Vishneva Stretches—As Far as She Can; City Ballet Up, Down in Perma-Crisis