Diana Vishneva’s long-awaited return to London has been highly anticipated by dance fans everywhere. This prima ballerina, best known for her work with the Mariinsky Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, is considered one of the greatest ballet dancers still performing today, but now the 38-year-old is embarking on a contemporary strand of her career.
At times the two new pieces that make up the 90-minute programme are charmingly eccentric; at others, they are simply baffling. The most disappointing thing of all is that, for those witnessing a live performance from Vishneva for the first time, her flawless technique and physical prowess are not showcased to an in any way pleasing extent. Many will have heard of Vishneva’s greatness and technical perfection, or may have seen her through clips on the internet, but these two new works specially created for her are sadly forgettable.
The first of the two pieces is ‘Switch’, a slow-burning pas de trois. At times the stage bubbles with romantic intrigue as the audience try to piece together the relationship between Vishneva and the two supporting artists, Gaetan Morlotti and Bernice Coppieters. Vishneva’s role in the piece continuously evolves throughout. Is she the victim? Is she the heroine? Is she hurt? Or revengeful? The only certain fact is that, by the end, Vishneva has been isolated by the couple and she strips down to just a practice leotard and finally displays a glimpse of her athletic abilities. The piece has stronger, more watchable moments, but there are plenty that left me confused; intriguing as Jean Christophe Maillot is, I was longing for Vishneva to really dance, rather than simply hint at her talents. One can certainly not doubt the stature of Vishneva in the ballet work, not only through this piece of work commissioned especially for her, but in this first piece through the gown she wears, especially designed for her by Karl Lagerfeld: a billowing silver creation that doesn’t particularly flatter her frame, it nevertheless certainly leaves the audience in no doubt of Vishneva’s grandeur.
Entitled simply ‘Woman in a Room’, the second piece of the evening explores confrontation of solitude and inner reflection. Choreographed by Carolyn Carlson, we see Vishneva slide from one mood to another via a range of different costume changes, conveying hysteria, joy, panic and sadness in quick succession. Yet somehow choreographically the piece lacks variety, despite this principal dancer’s inherent watchability. The piece ends with Vishneva manically slicing through an endless pile of lemons and distributing them around the front stalls, to the audiences delight. There have been less strange evenings at the theatre.
Diana Vishneva: On The Edge plays at the London Coliseum until 18 April. For tickets and more information, see the ENO website. Photo by Maxime Ruiz.