“Duo” with Diana Vishneva and Daria Pavlenko – July 2023

In mid-July, as part of the “Context Diana Vishneva 2023” festival, prima ballerinas Diana Vishneva and Daria Pavlenko appeared together in the aptly named “Duo”, a production said to recall 19th century evenings of both opera and ballet. Yet “Duo”, performed on the stage of Saint Petersburg’s Bolshoi Dramatic Theatre, in fact included neither opera or ballet. The one-hour synthesis of music and dance presented, according to the program, “the ideal of duality and the variance of events”. Utterly modern choreography by Pavel Glukhov, based on “points of juxtaposition of the professional lives of the two ballerinas”, offered the two artists a chance to embody the synchronicities, unions, separations, impulses and reactions of the modern dance lexicon.

Following pagan-like, spiritual chanting by 7 members of the musicAeterna folk group, dressed in black nun-like habits for the 5 women and black pantsuits for the 2 men, positioned strategically on a completely black stage below a large white Moon, the dance section of “Duo” began with both ballerinas in black cloaks, soon removed to reveal two finely honed bodies in flesh-toned dresses crowned by white swan-like headpieces. An upstage cellist began to play alongside a pianist and a single violinist to the background of a mechanical, train-like soundtrack as Vishneva and Pavlenko entwined arms in almost priestly gestures. Layers of mystique, both dark and light, filled the dance from start to finish. Hands grasped and released each other, as high rond de jambes swirled their floor-length skirts in airborne half circles.

Yet there was less juxtaposition than commonality in the two dancers’ presentation. Meditational undulations shifted to a competition-like atmosphere when, at one point, Pavlenko’s dress is removed, like a second skin, to show only a beige-colored leotard on her sinewy, lean limbs, perhaps a metaphor for baring one’s soul. An expressive solo ensues where Pavlenko seems tormented by external demons, coiling in retreat, her mesmerizing stare emoting better than most stage actresses. When Vishneva reappears, it is in the same dress, but now metaphorically tattered — with age or experience, or both. Vishneva’s meditative solo, accented with a sense of pain and loss, eventually reaches fever pitch, as if she’s undulating and cannot stop. But the frantic blur is carefully brought to a close in a gesture of comfort by Pavlenko, clothed again in a similarly tattered dress.Then the Moon turns red, perhaps indicating the revelation of grief, or an end that brings yet another beginning. After a series of “cutting” arm movements, where their elbows close over their own necks, both ballerinas finally stop to watch an upstage light fill the stage. The singers enter, chanting again, and soon the lights go out.

The atmosphere throughout “Duo”, while bleak at times, is nonetheless hypnotizing, spiritual and otherworldly. A visible struggle, less between the primas than perhaps within themselves, is sensed throughout, while echoes of a birth and death theme reappear frequently. The pain of loss and transformation is palpable — these two consummate actresses take such care in depicting every gesture and glance.

“Duo” ran for only two nights, but should it be performed again, it is a production worth watching.
Top and middle photos by Yulia Mikheeva. 
Last photo by Irina Tuminene.
All images courtesy of Context Festival.
With appreciation to the Context Fest Press Office.