Kicking off high-heeled clogs, Diana Vishneva sits down to try on a new pair of ballet slippers.
“See how they feel,” says her manager, Gaia Danilian of Ardani Artists Management, and so she does.
In two lightning-fast steps, she’s en pointe, transformed into an impossibly graceful goddess.
Once back on her heels, she rummages through a box of chocolates while speaking in rapid-fire Russian.
Vishneva, 35, began her spring season in New York as a guest star with the Martha Graham company. She’ll spend April in St. Petersburg and Moscow before returning to Manhattan to dance in “Giselle” and “La Bayadere” with the American Ballet Theatre.
We talked between rehearsals with the help of a translator at City Center.
Tarmy: How many ballet shoes do you go through a week?
Vishneva: I average around a pair a day -- the British pointe shoes last a bit longer, maybe a day and a half, but those are around $70 dollars a pair.
Tarmy: And when you get them, you can just slip them on?
Vishneva: Not at all. I have to soften the soles with a hammer first, which always causes problems at airports. Customs officials never understand why a ballerina is traveling with a hammer in her carry-on bag.
Tarmy: You’re constantly touring. Does all of that time in the air affect the way you dance?
Vishneva: Of course. After every flight I need to take some time to recover. But I make sure to fly business class -- that way I can move around and keep my muscles from tightening up.
Tarmy: What’s the best classical ballet company in the world?
Vishneva: I’d probably say the Paris ballet, because they have such a huge budget. And when you have a huge budget like theirs, you can put on extremely ambitious productions.
Plus, the conditions to be a dancer at the Paris Ballet are ideal -- if you become the “etoile,” it’s like a tenured position. When you do decide to step down, you continue to receive a salary until you die.
Tarmy: But I heard that Russia just spent close to a billion dollars renovating the Bolshoi Theatre.
Vishneva: That’s politics, not art. They certainly don’t spend that kind of money on the actual artists.
Tarmy: How has ballet in Russia changed since the fall of the Soviet Union?
Vishneva: During the Soviet Union, as a star ballerina you were given certain privileges: an apartment, a car, a dacha in the countryside. But they were just for your use -- you didn’t actually own them.
Today, no one gives you anything, but you get paid much, much more money. It used to be a situation where the West paid much more than Russia, but now it’s the reverse. Russian ballet companies understand that they need to spend money to compete.
And I benefit from that level of competition because it means that I can afford to dance at home, in front of audiences who love me.
Tarmy: Did you watch “Black Swan?”
Vishneva: They actually asked me to go to a casting call for it, but I was dancing in Japan. And after seeing the film, I’m glad I couldn’t make it.
I enjoyed watching it, but it had nothing to do with real ballet. And certainly nothing to do with how you prepare for a role.
Tarmy: When you stop dancing, do you want to do choreography?
Vishneva: When I’m done dancing, I’m going to have kids.
(James Tarmy writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)