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From Russia with love — of dancing

Diana Vishneva, a principal dancer at the Mariinsky Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, brings two new pieces to Segerstrom Center.

November 01, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Diana Vishneva rehearses "Woman In A Room," which is one of two parts of a ballet called "On the Edge" at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts on Thursday.
Diana Vishneva rehearses "Woman In A Room,"… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

The first time Jean-Christophe Maillot laid eyes on Diana Vishneva, he was gripped by the feeling that she was weird — not in a way that made him cringe or avert his sight.

Quite the opposite. He was spellbound.

"She was not what we were used to seeing, not placed [on her feet] like everybody, and she was extremely skinny," said Maillot, holding up his pinky to drive his point home. "She was very atypical for a classical dancer."

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Vishneva trained at the Vaganova Ballet Academy and won a gold medal at the Prix de Lausanne, an international young dancers' competition, in 1994.

"Nobody really understood Diana, but I got very excited," recounted Maillot, who at the time presided over the jury. "I fought a lot during the deliberations to give her a gold medal. It was very special. Right away, I knew she was pure talent."

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Starting Wednesday, the ballerina will perform "On the Edge" at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The show comprises world premieres of "Switch" and "Woman in a Room" and is co-presented by Ardani Artists. Vishneva, a principal dancer at the Mariinsky Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, who began working on individual projects in 2007, is poised to exhibit original choreography by Maillot and Carolyn Carlson.

The venue, which launched its dance series in 1986 with the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, has since showcased projects of a more experimental nature. Judging by the overwhelming response by local audiences, Executive Vice President Judy Morr believes that there's plenty of love to go around for the classics and the eclectic.

Who packs the seats? Everyone, she said, from "little girls dressed in tutus" to college-going youths and adult patrons.

"'On the Edge,' and before it, 'Beauty in Motion,' allow us to watch Diana express her passion and individual style that starts in her soul — not just recreating roles that have been part of the repertory and danced by many artists through the years," Morr said.

"We are watching the creative process, not just the re-creative process. It is a great compliment to our audience that she returns regularly. She knows she is admired and loved here."

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