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October 28, 2016

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Age is no barrier to play a teenager on stage

WITH her expressive big black eyes, a shining smile and graceful movement on stage, 40-year-old Diana Vishneva can still drive her audiences to tears. The principal dancer of Mariinsky Theater was at it again in the ballet “Romeo and Juliet” at Shanghai Grand Theater early this week.

Born in St Petersburg and trained at the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet, Vishneva joined the Mariinsky Ballet Company in 1995. She impressed immediately, picking up the Benois de la Danse and the Golden Sofit awards that propelled her to the top early in life.

Vishneva was named principal of Mariinsky in 1996. She also made guest appearances with other ballet companies, including American Ballet Theater, the Bolshoi Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, Teatro alla Scala in Milan and Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin. Her rich repertoires include “Don Quixote,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Firebird” and even modern works like “Romeo and Juliet.”

This version of “Romeo and Juliet” in Shanghai is based on the original version that was created by Leonid Lavrovski and set to music by Sergei Prokofiev in 1940. Galina Sergeevna Ulanova played the lead role. It was the start of a new era in Russian ballet that focused on emotions rather than dazzling skills.

Vishneva shares her thoughts on her work with Shanghai Daily.

Q: How do you like this version of “Romeo and Juliet?”

A: I feel happy to be part of the ballet theater, as it benefits me so much for my artistic career. It is a typical example of the great development of Russian ballet during the former Soviet period. Since then, the Russian ballet dancers are required to not only dance, but also play the role as actors and actresses. They have to be accurate about the movement. They are also expected to exhibit the psychological status and motion of the role precisely and possibly uplift it, so that the audiences can better understand the story and art. It is a perfect work — in music, choreography ... everything.

Q: Juliet is only 14 years old in Shakespeare’s work. How do you manage to transform yourself into a teenager on stage?

A: Actually, Galina Sergeevna Ulanova, who played the character in the original ballet, was performing well into her 50s. Age is not that big obstacle for a mature ballet dancer. On the contrary, aging may install dancers with experiences both in life and on stage. The more experience a dancer gets, the better she may be able to master the details and related emotions to exhibit a vivid teenage girl on stage.

I played Juliet in my 20s and 30s, and I am still playing the role at 40. For me, it is a process of improvement and perfection continuously.

Q: This version of “Romeo and Juliet” emphasizes a lot on emotional expression. What part is the most emotionally demanding one for you?

A: Juliet is a girl with rich emotion. That’s why she may seem more dramatic than Romeo on stage. There is no particularly most emotionally demanding part. From the first second on stage, I have to be fully devoted to my role and prepare the audiences for the final tragedy to come.

The emotion has to be delivered not only when I am dancing but also when I pause. Every second on stage, I have the original word of Shakespeare in my brain. I have to be devoted so that the audiences may get the essence.

I personally like the part when the conflict between Juliet and her family explodes best. It is a very difficult part to interpret — a girl fighting against the strong will of her family.

Q: It is said to be a very difficult piece, as Prokofiev’s music is very different from what is usually used for ballet works. Is that true for you as well?

A: Yes, it is probably the most difficult ballet work. It is very demanding in not only music, choreography and stage changes, but it also requires every dancer on the stage to make the tragedy of two big families convincing for the audiences.

Ballet is an art without word. It requires the dancers to deliver the message through nothing but their body and face expression. This version of “Romeo and Juliet” has never faded out of the stage.

I have witnessed generations of great dancers displaying the tragedy on stage since I was young. I kept learning from them until I got the role myself. I am so lucky to be capable of standing on the giants’ shoulders to shape my Juliet today.


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