When I first heard that ballerina Diana Vishneva was to star in her own contemporary production at City Center—an unusual event in the ballet world—I was curious. Vishneva, an eloquent dancer with a china-doll face and a singularly expressive back, is certainly deserving of such a program—aptly (if goofily) titled Beauty in Motion. As a principal dancer with both the Kirov Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, she has danced nearly every traditional ballerina role. A show featuring Vishneva, with her cornucopia of classical experience, in a more experimental mode promised to be interesting.
The production didn’t quite deliver on that promise. Vishneva was able to rally some seriously impressive choreographers for Beauty in Motion: Alexei Ratmansky, artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet; Moses Pendleton, artistic director of the playfully experimental dance company Momix; and Dwight Rhoden, co-artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Rather than creating dances that celebrated the particular talents of their muse, each chose instead to create some version of his usual choreographic world, assuming that Vishneva would insert herself into it. She tried to do so valiantly, tackling each choreographer’s distinctive movement vocabulary with a reverent, studious intensity. But only two of the men deserved this reverence.
In terms of pure dance value, Ratmansky’s Pierrot Lunaire was the most accomplished work on the program. Set to a difficult and not particularly dance-friendly Schoenberg score, it featured Kirov dancers Igor Kolb, Mikhail Lobukhin, and Alexander Sergeev. With Vishneva, they inhabited abstracted versions of the commedia dell’arte characters Pierrot, Harlequin, Cassander and Columbine. Ratmansky’s overstated choreography was moody, veering from cute irreverence—with the dancers tickling and poking each other, even slapping each others’ backsides—to desperate melancholy. While there were several lovely solos for Vishneva, including a series of fleet, glittery chaîne turns, Ratmansky allowed the men some real stage time too. They thanked him by dancing with giddy enthusiasm.
Pendleton’s F.L.O.W. (For Love of Women) was good, formulaic Momix fun. Its opening section was performed in black light, a Momix staple used charmingly here. The disembodied arms and legs of Vishneva and Kirov artists Maria Shevyakova and Ekaterina Ivannikova worked themselves into endlessly inventive formations—some funny (three sets of arms became a ballerina performing “Swan Lake”), some poetic (arms threw and caught fist “balls,” which lingered hypnotically in mid-air), and some silly (legs and arms formed a smiley face, which morphed into a frowning face). Vishneva could have been any of the limbs, or none of them, but that didn’t bother me.
The second part of F.L.O.W. placed Vishneva on a mirrored ramp, where she folded and unfolded her nearly naked body. Pendleton triumphed in using the mirror, as when Vishneva lay on her stomach, lifted her head, elbows and pelvis while keeping her hands, knees and feet pressed to the mirror—a doubled tarantula. It seemed, at times, as though she were struggling to emerge from a silvery pool of water, a struggle that, as she slid off the back of the ramp at the end of the piece, she ultimately lost. The final section was also prop-dependent, featuring Vishneva spinning with a sort of lampshade of iridescent beads—simple, but magnetic.
Sadly, Rhoden’s Three Point Turn was shallow and unprovocative. Rhoden is less dance maker than a step maker; his pieces are endless strings of frantic, twitchy steps. Three Point Turn had an excellent cast, including the hyper-articulate Desmond Richardson, Complexions’ other co-artistic director and one of the finest ballet technicians around. Although three couples danced their pants off (literally, in the case of the men), none of them, not even the admirably focused Vishneva, could make sense of Rhoden’s messy, pointlessly sexualized world. David Rozenblatt’s accompanying percussive score was over-amplified, grating and without rhythm—perhaps by design, but the effect did not work.
Margaret Fuhrer is a dancer, choreographer, and graduate student in the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at New York University.