Taken in 'context'

One of the world's leading dancers, Diana Vishneva, performs in Tel Aviv on Friday, March 8.

Dina Vishneva in action. (photo credit: IRINA TUMININE)
Dina Vishneva in action.
(photo credit: IRINA TUMININE)
 Diana Vishneva, one of the world’s leading classical and contemporary dancers, will perform solo on Friday at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv in the framework of the first international tour of her “Context. Vishneva Festival.” The program also features works by the best Russian young choreographers, alumni of Vishneva’s contemporary dance hothouse. 
In a phone interview from her Moscow home, the much-awarded Russian diva, prima ballerina of the Mariinsky Theater and former principal dancer of the American Ballet Theater speaks about her art and her self-imposed mission of supporting her country’s young ballet generation.
Born in Leningrad, now Saint Petersburg, Vishneva has appeared at the world’s most prestigious stages and has worked with such choreographers as Pina Bausch, Carolyn Carlson, Ohad Naharin, to name a few. She graduated from the famed Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet and was accepted to the Mariinsky Theater, also appearing as a guest soloist at Moscow’s Bolshoi. 
Her future was clear, “Yet after 10 years in Mariinsky, I started to suffocate,” she said. “Stunning as it is, classical ballet, with its tutus and crowns, is but a beautiful illusion, a fake, which does not really speak about human nature, especially its dark and cruel side, neither does it deal with self-cognition. 
“As a dancer, you are constrained by the rules, by the critics, and by the generations of dancers who have passed on to you the centuries-old tradition, and put it on your shoulders. But I don’t want to be a museum dancer. This is the contemporary choreography that allows me to breathe life into this fake. I was peeling myself as a cabbage, layer after layer. And this gave me a raison d’etre, not being just another Vaganova Academy product and a Mariinsky dancer, but a personality with a different understanding of dance.”
Looking back at her years at Vaganova Academy, Vishneva says, “They provide an extraordinary training, yet the system is based on endless self-castigation and criticism for the sake of perfection. Granted, if you are serious about your profession, you aspire to be perfect. But this perfection devours you from inside. At school, you never hear a compliment, and you start asking yourself where the love of dance, the expression of love, or just emotions through dance, have gone?”
VISHNEVA SPEAKS excitedly about her cooperation with world-renowned Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. “Ohad is not interested in the dancer’s titles and past achievements, but he looks straight into your eyes, he X-rays you in order to realize what kind of person you are and whether you are deeply dedicated to your work, or just seek for a mention ‘worked with a choreographer X’ in your CV. He revealed for me my different self, in many ways. Learning a new language is always a challenge and a renovation, while with Ohad, it was like a rebirth. There are no mirrors in Naharin’s studio because you should see yourself by looking inside of you. Now, I am able to give birth to a movement, not by following specific rules, but rather by relying on my inner resources.” 
Internationally demanded both as a contemporary and a classical dancer, she still felt that she had reached just another ceiling. “Instead of waiting for the theater directors to bring more international choreographers to work with, I contacted them on my own, thus creating individual ballet projects.”
Founding the Context contemporary dance festival was her new step forward. “Not that in Russia there were no contemporary choreographers at all, but theirs was almost a clandestine activity, and nobody supported them.” This was how, some six years ago, her festival was born. Starting as a small-scale Moscow-based event, it grew into the “center of attraction,” said Vishneva, “for both local and international choreographers and ensembles, and a hothouse for young choreographers, stage designers and stage photographers, as well as future ballet critics.
“In addition to shows, the festival program features lectures, workshops and more. We receive about one hundred applications from aspiring choreographers from all over the country, and carefully chose six or so to stage their pieces in the framework of the festival. We provide them with training, support, and exposure, and last but not least, we give them a sense of self-confidence. And it pays off. The best among them have been invited to cooperate with Russia’s well-established repertoire theaters.”
In their first international exposure, some of these works will be presented this Friday in Tel Aviv, while Vishneva will perform a solo from the ballet Tué, by Marco Goecke. From Tel Aviv the group will continue to London.
The Context international tour is just a part of a major project of M.art, which is a non-profit, non-governmental cultural organization that showcases contemporary Russian culture in London, New York and Tel Aviv.
Shows on Friday, March 8, at 1 and 9 p.m. at the Suzanne Dellal Center, Yehieli St. 5, Tel Aviv. For tickets or more information, 03-510-5656 or suzannedellal.org.il.