Theater archives

Russian Diva Power


Great ballerinas tend to flower, dance till they’re ready to drop, then fade away into teaching or domesticity. So it’s admirable when two Russian stars venture into directing or leading companies while still in their prime. Diana Vishneva and Nina Ananiashvili, however, have taken on very different tasks. Diana Vishneva: Beauty in Motion is a small pickup company that enables Vishneva to expand her artistic horizons. Ananiashvili performs with the State Ballet of Georgia, but, more importantly, she’s its artistic director, credited with raising the once-proud company from the ragtag state to which civil strife and financial hardships had brought it.

Both women include a ballet by the greatly gifted Alexei Ratmansky in their touring programs, but that’s about all they have in common. Vishneva ventures far afield of her fans’ expectations in Moses Pendleton’s F.L.O.W. (set to various new age–y musical selections). In “Swan’s Dream,” the director of MOMIX renders Vishneva, Maria Shevyakova, and Ekaterina Ivannikova as a triad of disembodied blue limbs made visible by black light. Arms become pecking birds, swans a-swimming, and even wormy legs. It’s Alwin Nikolais redux (at length). In “Glass Awakening,” Vishneva’s not only fully visible, but doubled, lying on a slanting mirrored surface. The most resonant effect comes when she’s facedown on her own image, her head toward us—not just a dreamy, floating naiad, but a narcissist whose twin lures her beneath the surface. In “Waters Flower,” she spins within a cage-headdress of hanging ropes.

However, the three women—plus Mikhail Lobukhin, Alexander Sergeev, and guest Desmond Richardson—get to show off their chops in Dwight Rhoden’s balletomodern, Three Point Turn. Although the piece ends with the couples in clinches, they spend most of their time conducting push-pull relationships at a frenzied pace that’s driven by David Rozenblatt’s violent live-percussion-plus-electronic music. In a program note, Rhoden mentions that love, his purported subject, “can whip, hurl, and throw one in unexpected directions.” That, literally, is what he depicts.

The program’s high point, Ratmansky’s Pierrot Lunaire, is set to Arnold Schoenberg’s 12-tone fantasy of the same name for a small ensemble and singer (here, Elena Sommer) who delivers Albert Giraud’s text in sprechstimme. The choreography deconstructs the commedia dell’arte deeds of Pierrot, Columbine, Harlequin, and Cassander as they surface in Pierrot’s dreams. Ratmansky is not only skilled at designing steps and patterns, he has a gift for creating interplay among performers. Vishneva reveals her effortlessly fluid limbs and pert charm in an array of overlapping scenes that range from comic to lyrical to vicious. She can be languid, vain, impish, or melancholy. Lobukhin, Sergeev, and Igor Kolb—dressed, as is Vishneva initially, in white Pierrot suits by Tatiana Chernova—are wonderfully expressive as well. They mime, play pranks, dance in nimble unison. Vishneva swoons from Sergeev’s kiss; later, moon-inspired dreams also churn up images of death and execution. One man drags another, twisting and turning, by a rope. Lobukhin crawls offstage on all fours with Vishneva pulling him along by the back of his shirt. There’s always something interesting to look at and think about.

The Georgians begin their opening-night performance looking nervous. Who can blame them? They’re dancing the Georgian-born Balanchine’s ravishing Chaconne in the city where he built his company. Maria Calegari and Bart Cook have set the ballet on them with care, but the performers don’t look fully at home in it yet. Some of the women have a curious sway-backed stance, and the men jut their hips as if speaking a foreign language. Tension makes it hard for them to phrase the passages set to Gluck’s beautiful music, even though Ananiashvili (partnered by Vasil Akhmeteli) is lovely in the first pas de deux: Orpheus and Eurydice reunited as if in a dream. Nino Gogua and Lasha Khozashvili are a little more relaxed in Balanchine’s Duo Concertante. Gogua is gentle, unaffected, and concise. Khozashvili—one of a cadre of lusty guys with black, curly hair—makes bold use of space, and together they show traces of wit as well as tenderness.

Ratmansky’s Bizet Variations (set to George Bizet’s seldom-heard Chromatic Variations, played by pianist Eric Huebner), like Russian Songs, his wonderful work for the New York City Ballet, weaves the dancers into a community—watching one another, indulging in bits of byplay, coming and going, and dancing vividly. Nino Ochiauri and Maya Dolidze are happy with partners (David Khozashvili and Irakli Bakhtadze) who fall on the floor and kiss their ankles. That is, until Akhmeteli starts leaping around them; they’re agog at his spins. Ananiashvili could have any of the men but rejects them all. Still, playful pursuit models the choreographic patterns, and Ratmansky knows how to engage the eye as too few choreographers do: He turns classical steps into dialogues and assertions, and unison passages emerge as celebrations of unanimity rather than as power displays. Too bad that the men’s shirts are awkwardly cut and that lighting designer Amiran Ananelli relies heavily on follow spots—surely inappropriate to this ballet; some people are bright blue-white while others lurk in dimly lit amber.

Yuri Possokhov, a principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, has delved into his own Russian background to create Sagalobeli, named for ancient Georgian folk music and played by the six members of the Sagalobeli Ensemble on traditional instruments—including nasal wooden flutes and balalaikas. To raucously robust or mournful tunes, 14 dancers let loose and attack the steps with verve. Possokhov creates the ambience of a folk celebration, with vigorous couple dances, maiden chains, circle dances, and a terrific display of male prowess. Each principal pair—Gogua and Akhmeteli, Dolidze and David Khozashvili, Anna Muradeli and Lasha Khozashvili—gets a chance to show its colors. When Dolidze dances alone, the watching men rise to support her, then pursue her as she runs off. It’s that kind of party—and full of people you’d like to know.

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