Diana Vishneva (Vishnëva, pronounced Vishnyova) was born in St. Petersburg in1976 and was trained at the famous Vaganova Ballet Academy. Many consider her to be the greatest ballet dancer currently performing, and indeed one of the greatest of all time. One of the most commonly cited facts about Vishneva is that while she was a student she accumulated the highest marks ever given in the history of the academy. She was as near a perfect student as it is possible to imagine. She won the 1994 Prix de Lausanne—an astonishing feat as the gold medal had gone for a considerable time almost exclusively to male dancers. Her talent, however, was so extraordinary that it simply could not be ignored or passed over. Never. She graduated from the academy the following year and was immediately hired by the Mariinsky, where she became a principle dancer the following year. The speed of this rise strains credulity, especially in Russia, where much is demanded of dancers and such rapid ascension is almost unheard of.
She quickly became known in all the major theaters and festivals, and was a world sensation in very short order. She currently is a principle dancer both at the Mariinsky and also—and this is historically unknown—at the American Ballet Theater. She was named several years ago by President Putin as People’s Artist of Russia. She is famous, so her biography is well known and easily consulted.
First, I think it’s important to look at the young Vishneva, because the talent was so great even then that it was clear she was headed for the big time. Here she is at 17, in a presentation built around music from Bizet’s Carmen:
It is hard not to find oneself smiling from ear to ear when she takes her bow! The technical command is astonishing for a girl of 17, but even more amazing is the mental and emotional grip she has on the characterization. In writing on another occasion about this scene, I used the terms “spunk” and “sparkle.” She captures the qualities of seductiveness and self-confidence in a way that is quite advanced for her relatively tender age. She is at this point still a student, but all the signs of mastery are present.
It is illustrative to watch her, later, in a reheaersal and class, where we get a clear sense of her energy and her positive attitude about learning. She is having a lot of fun here, as she manages to inadvertently kick off a warm-up pad from her leg, and then begin, more seriously, to listen very carefully to instruction, catching on almost immediately to what the instructor is asking for. Then, briefly, we have a chance to see her rehearsing with Manuel Legris, at that time principal dancer with the Paris Opera:
Isn’t that charming! Additionally, and more importantly, of course, it is illustrative of how quickly she catches on, how exactly she understands, and how seriously she rehearses. A very quick study, and an exemplary attitude!
Here is a fascinating clip of Diana early in her career, at the age of 20, in a pas de deux written by Tchaikovsky as a late addition to Swan Lake, one that is almost never performed. Here is a chance to see Vishneva , still very young, demonstrating her absolute understanding and control of classical technique. It is an immaculate execution:
That is so lovely! The way she carries herself is exemplary, from the port-de-bras to the ram-rod straight posture, she is elegance in motion.
Even though her classical technique is perfect, Diana’s ambitions have led her of late into much more modern dance, including very new and experimental choreography. She has become something of a spokesperson for aggressive development and experimentation, something she feels is necessary if ballet is to remain a vital and thriving art form. No one is talking about giving up Swan Lake, The Nutcracker or Bayadere, but all repertoire begins to pale after a while. The trick is to keep the development within the parameters of ballet basics. One does not want to go the direction of operatic stage direction quirkiness which has become common of late, often, sadly, to the detriment of the form. (Even Sir Kenneth MacMillan gave up on that idea for ballet after a while!) Here is a fine example of what Vishneva spends a serious amount of time doing these days, along with the classical repertoire:
I note, with great interest, that this video has close to half a million hit on it! One suspects very strongly that the brilliant little girl who stunned everyone, and the fully adult woman who continues to do the same, actually has a very good idea of what she is doing, and why!