Diana Vishneva’s latest solo program, On the Edge, which premiered at Sergerstrom Center for the Arts on Wednesday, proved less edgy than its title suggested. It fits a trend of ballet stars reconfiguring their talents for choreography outside the boundaries of their accostomed domains. Count among them dancers such as Wendy Whelan with her new contemporary ballet program, Restless Creature, Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo in the dance adaptation of Colette’s novella Cheri which is set to debut in New York, and of course the various incarnations of Kings of the Dance, its sister vehicle Reflections, and Vishneva’s original Beauty in Motion, all created for Ardani Artisits.
On the Edge choreographers, Jean-Christophe Maillot and Carolyn Carlson, both made thoughtful efforts creating work that showed off Ms Vishneva’s technical and emotional capabilities. But the work also seemed contrived or even underwhelming as stand-alone dancemaking. The two thirty mnute works were presented with a lengthy imtermission. Maillot’s Switch is a reflection of the artist reconciling her artistic dedication and creative dislocation against the normalcy of everyday life and the inevitable moment when a career comes to an end. Bernice Coppieters and Gaëtan Morlotti (both from Ballets de Monte-Carlo where Maillot is the artistic director) join Ms Vishneva in Switch, which plays like a slow moving, interior drama. Completing a triangle of relationships, they function as foils to Vishneva’s probing character. Maillot leans heavily on some obvious symbols to get his point across. At one point Vishneva drags a heavy ballet barre behind her across the stage, and finally ties her pointe shoes to it in an act of resignation. The work shows us the progress of her character from a woman full of hauteur to one finally depleted and laid bare.
Carlson’s work, Woman in a Room, comes heavily front loaded with the resonance of poetics and film references from the Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky. Here, Vishneva is in a room, alone; introspection, dreams, and memory are her companions. Carlson is a longtime dance modernist who blends theater, movement, and environment into a whole. Woman in a Room has an appealing look. There are recurring gestures and movements but it delivers mostly a drawn out gloss of its dense, contemplative intentions. The concluding section set to a gypsy guitar veers away from the solitariness of the work’s theme. On stage, beneath a window which looks out onto the flickering image of a tree, rests a bushel of lemons. She finally slices them with a large knife and hands them out to the audience. It felt like an incongruous ending to a work that had successfully built such a satisfying atmosphere of remoteness.
There were purposeful ideas holding the evening together. Both works are set in single room. The first work makes use of fluid dancing on pointe for both women. Switch takes place in what looks like a modern apartment with a striking backdrop of oversized, pendant lamp shades glowing with orange light. An acrylic glass chair, a sleek leather banquette, and a ballet barre complete the set (Alain Lagarde). White lighting prevails. Woman in a Room, set in a country house, resumes where Switch leaves off with Vishneva dancing in this second role barefoot. The music for both is moody and atmospheric. Danny Elman’s score for Switch includes movements from his Serenada Schizophrana. Woman in a Room is an episodic arrangement of chamber works by the cellist and composer Giovanni Sollima. One section was marred with an obtrusive fade edit. Both were prerecorded.
On the Edge comes across as a balanced blend of box office attraction, and dance theatre. Vishneva clearly is thinking about where her legacy is going to take her. She is a riveting dancer even without the bravura element. In spite of the slight, at times self-conscious choreography, what resonated was the tremendous honesty and sincerity of both her acting and dancing.
(The reviewed performance took place on November 7, 2013. Diana Vishneva is a Principal Dancer with ABT and, as a guest dancer, has performed major roles with Mariinski and the Bolshoi as well as many European companies.)