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Review: Diana Vishneva gracefully commands stage at Segerstrom Hall

Review: Diana Vishneva gracefully commands stage at Segerstrom Hall
With Bernice Coppieters watching, Diana Vishneva dances with Gaetan Morlotti in "Switch." (Gene Schiavone)

She struts and slinks, clad in Karl Lagerfeld. Ballet superstar Diana Vishneva, making an entrance at Segerstrom Hall on Wednesday, haughty and oozing class in slits of silver lame and sleeveless top, not only owns the stage; ballet history is writ large on her body, in her bones.

This prima, 37, may not be the first to commission works from famous choreographers -- erstwhile Paris Opera Ballet étoile Sylvie Guillem has done it since 1996; New York City Ballet’s Wendy Whelan more recently. Even before that was Anna Pavlova, Terpsichore’s original megastar, whose Dying Swan captivated the world in the early 1900s.

Vishneva, however, has turned that page.  In her latest commissioned program, "On the Edge" (running through Sunday), two world premieres excavate art, love, life and, well, divadom.

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"Switch," by Jean-Christophe Maillot, the artistic director of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, features the apotheosis of triangles. A couple, Bernice Coppieters (Maillot's wife) and Gaetan Morlotti, both from Maillot's troupe, laugh, make love and take turns toying with Vishneva -- and she with them -- on Alain Lagarde's striking set.

Art Deco-type hanging lamps, a chaise longue, small Lucite chair and, oh, yes, a ballet barre, prove the perfect backdrop, with the trio coming together, breaking apart and reconfiguring itself like so many moves in a thrilling chess match.  Set to two pieces by Danny Elfman varying from Hitchcockian to Simpsonesque, this 30-minute showcase accentuates the dancers' artistry and pristine technique:  An articulated foot here, elongated, swirling arms there, impossibly arched backs, muscular turns and high kicks everywhere.

Though Vishneva bades Morlotti to do her bidding, he -- and Coppieters -- ultimately won't have it, placing Vishneva prone on the chaise longue, manipulating the star's arms and legs. While the diva luxuriates (curling, stretching), the pair kiss, mischief-making a recurring motif.

Stripping from designer duds to strapless leotard, Vishneva heads for true solace, the barre, dragging it center stage, making it her partner: Whether dangling from, wrapping a leg around or hoisting herself up and around it, she takes charge, finally crumpling and removing her pointe shoes. Barefoot, vulnerable, Vishneva blows a kiss to worshipful fans.

In modern dance mode, Vishneva inhabits Carolyn Carlson's 35-minute, "Woman in a Room" as if simultaneously fighting and embracing demons. Inspired by Virginia Woolf and filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, Carlson, an American living in Europe the last 40 years, also designed the stark set: long table, bench and large window, with Maxime Ruiz's Robert Wilsonian tree video, its leaves moving ever so slightly, before the image is embedded with Vishneva's haunting countenance.

Moving around the table to Giovanni Sollima's lush, cello-centric score, the dancer repeats certain actions: Supporting herself on the prop, she furiously mimes running; open-mouthed, she silently screams. This need to be heard as well as seen is accomplished with Vishneva voice-overs (bits of Russian poems), while twisty, ornamental air jumps reveal whimsy. The dancer also removes and dons Chrystel Zingiro's filmy garments -- and stilettos.

Then there are the lemons! Beaming, Vishneva chops, as René Aubry's delicious mandolin/guitar score, "Lungomare," transforms this ritual into a soul-cleansing. Tossing out the fruit to the audience, a jubilant Vishneva brings her closer to us -- and it is we who are now on the edge ... of wonderment.

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"Diana Vishneva: On the Edge," Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, $30 to $125, 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. (714) 556-2787 or www.scfta.org

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