Diana Vishneva Does Graham

Published in the June/July 2012 issue.

Photos by Jim Lafferty

Most Russian ballerinas spend their careers polishing and repolishing their Auroras, Giselles, Odettes and Odiles. Diana Vishneva is not most Russian ballerinas. Ever eager for a new challenge, Vishneva chose to perform Martha Graham’s Errand into the Maze last June, at a gala in St. Petersburg celebrating her 15-year anniversary with the Maryinsky Ballet. “I wanted to feel the structure of Graham’s choreography on my body, to see how it would fit,” she says. “And I thought that Errand was exactly what I needed—I prefer to work with a partner, and I like pieces with sets and costumes, pieces that have a sense of spectacle. I knew those aspects of Errand would help me become comfortable with the new style.” Her performance marked the first time Russian audiences had ever seen Graham. Their response, to both the choreography and Vishneva, was wildly enthusiastic.

Vishneva reprised the role this March in New York City, first at the Martha Graham Dance Company gala and again the same week in her own production, Diana Vishneva: Dialogues. Pointe sat in on one of her rehearsals with her partner, Abdiel Jacobsen of MGDC, and coach Miki Orihara, the Graham veteran who has worked with Vishneva from the beginning of her Errand journey.

“When you dance a ballet, you feel soft, tender. With Martha Graham’s choreography, you have different feelings—stronger, more powerful. I’m pretty tiny, but when I dance Graham I feel my weight." —Diana Vishneva

“The story of 'Errand into the Maze'—of Ariadne in the darkness looking for a way out—is very close to what happened to me when I started rehearsing the piece,” Vishneva says. “I was in the darkness, trying to navigate the choreography. I didn’t want people to say, ‘She knows the steps, but she doesn’t know the style.’ ”

Orihara discusses 'Errand' with the dancers. “Diana is beautiful, but she and I speak different languages,” Orihara says. “That is my challenge with her—how to translate the movement.”

Vishneva twists and turns in rehearsal.

The rope on the floor represents, in part, the maze of the work’s title.

Vishneva and Jacobsen in the work’s climactic moment of struggle.