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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Mikhail Baryshnikov: “I am a man of the free world”

NEW YORK – In America, there’s the concept of a household name. That is, the name of a person who is firmly remembered and heard by millions of people. Among living Russian-speaking Americans, it is safe to name only one name that falls under this concept – Mikhail Baryshnikov.

On January 27, Mikhail Baryshnikov, outstanding ballet dancer, choreographer and actor, celebrated his 75th birthday.

Career milestones

He was born in Riga in 1948. He studied at the choreographic schools of Riga and Leningrad, then at the Vaganov Dance Academy. In 1967-1974 he was the main soloist of the Kirov Theater (now again the Mariinsky). He performed the leading roles in the most prestigious productions.

One of the most famous “defectors” along with Natalia Makarova and Rudolf Nureyev, he stayed in the West while touring Canada in 1974. He acted in the cinema in the films “Turning Point” (nominated for “Oscar” ) and “White Nights”. In 1989, he made his Broadway debut. In the early 2000s, he starred in the popular television series Sex and the City.

With Natalia Makarova during a rehearsal in London. 1975

His career spanning more than 50 years has been marked by collaborations with such renowned choreographers as George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. From 1979 to 1989, Baryshnikov was artistic director of the American Ballet Theater (ABT), where he worked hard to train a new generation of dancers and choreographers. From 1990 to 2002 he was director and soloist of the White Oak Dance Project, a dance troupe he co-founded with choreographer Mark Morris.

His merits in the cultural and educational spheres are marked by numerous distinctions and prestigious titles. These include the Kennedy Center Award, the US National Medal of Arts, the French Legion of Honor and, more recently, the award from the UK’s Royal Academy of Dance.

With President Jimmy Carter at the White House. 1979 A.D.

Bouquet of scarlet roses

“He’s a genius, and it’s a heavy burden for a person,” Nina Alovert, well-known ballet critic and photographer Mikhail Baryshnikov described in a phone interview with Russia’s media service. “His gift was apparent every time he took the stage. Incredibly weightless, his powerful leaps into our minds personified his inner freedom – as an artist and as a person. I was still living in the Soviet Union then and we We saw Baryshnikov as a symbol of freedom, he was independent of the opinions of others and always did as he pleased.

Nina Alovert, 87, was born in Leningrad. In 1977, she emigrated with her family to the United States, where she lives to this day in the state of New Jersey. Alovert is a master of ballet photography, the author of numerous books and articles on the history of ballet, including books on the work of Mikhail Baryshnikov.

“There was a time when the director of the Mariinsky Theater forbade him to act in films with a Moscow ballerina from the Bolshoi Theater,” said Nina Alovert. So he immediately put a resignation letter on the table. Of course, he was not signed, he was already famous at the time. In terms of ballet technique, he had impeccable coordination, turns, leaps, everything was graceful and perfect. Each major dancer always brings something of their own to the design of the role. Baryshnikov was no exception. He made fantastic jumps.”

“The strongest impression of him on stage? – repeated question Alovert. – If in the classics, then “Giselle”. And Herman in La Dame de pique by Roland Petit. In addition, he had absolutely incredible concert numbers, individual novels, always very tragic.

Like a beautiful legend, ballet lovers say that after Giselle’s performance in New York, her partner Natalya Makarova, who also fled the USSR, threw a bouquet of white roses at her feet.

“It’s not surprising,” Alovert said. – The first performance in America – and the first triumph. We only heard about it on media. Misha has never regretted leaving for the West. He lost nothing, but won the whole world. I danced what I wanted. And that’s the most important thing for him. We can say that he knows a happy destiny.

Three hours before the show

Since 2005, Baryshnikov has run the Art Center of New York (BAC), which he opened and named after himself, knowing full well that this alone would be the center’s best advertisement. His name is shrouded in such reverence in the world of ballet, especially in the Russian-speaking segment of the American cultural audience, that, as they say in such cases, he could just read the phone book and get no less enthusiasm.

He participates in a variety of projects, and in fact each performance with the participation of Baryshnikov becomes an event. In new roles, the artist continues to amaze with the refinement and grace of each movement. Rich facial expressions add to the grotesque drawing of the roles.

In 2016, he played legendary dancer Vaslav Nijinsky in Robert Wilson’s production of A Letter to a Man at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in New York. This is a one-man show based on Nijinsky’s diaries.

As Baryshnikov said then, he captivated Wilson with the most difficult task: to show the inner world of a brilliant dancer at a time of grave spiritual crisis. For several months, Nijinsky kept his famous diaries, which reflected his tragic depression and his slow and painful descent into madness.

From the first to the last second of the performance, Baryshnikov holds the audience’s attention with his movements, facial expressions and those fragmentary phrases that the authors of the performance have chosen from Nizhinsky’s diaries.

Wilson and Baryshnikov created another transcendental world, full of understatement and allusion, comfortable in its claustrophobia and attractive to the viewer, ready for any aesthetic adventure.

The circus eccentric dominated in Khams’ The Old Woman, the dancer’s previous collaboration with Wilson at the same BAM, but there Baryshnikov shared the burden of artistic duties with actor Willem Dafoe.

I remember that the public enthusiastically accepted these two avant-garde roles of Baryshnikov.

“There is a deep feeling that it was Mikhail Baryshnikov who set out to visualize the tragic image of Nijinsky, based on virtually the only written record of his life and opinions,” said Joseph Melillo, then BAM executive producer. , after the performance in an interview with the Russian service media. “In the hands of another performer, it would be either extremely boring or hysterically melodramatic.”

“Baryshnikov is a gentle, kind and generous person,” Melillo said. – It’s interesting to talk with him about different things, including very serious things. Mikhail is a mature artist, but he has retained his spontaneity and openness. He is very concerned about how the public perceives his work. He arrives at the theater at least three hours before the start of the performance. At least an hour “warms up” in its own way. We have fitted out his artistic dressing room according to his wishes, so that he feels at home at BAM.

Now the Baryshnikov Art Center is preparing the play “Hunting Rifle” based on the story of Japanese writer Yasushi Inoue with the participation of the dancer himself and Miki Nakatami. The play is directed by François Girard. It is reported that Baryshnikov does not have words in the performance, which means that instead of words – movements and facial expressions.

With Rudolf Nureyev in New York. 1986 A.D.

Open letter to Putin

In 2015 Baryshnikov returned to Latvia, where director Alvis Hermanis staged the play Baryshnikov/Brodsky.

In 2017, he obtained Latvian citizenship.

Baryshnikov does not hide his views on the most pressing issues. In 2013, he spoke out against homophobia and discrimination against the LGBT community.

In February 2022, he spoke out against Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. When authorities blocked the site of the True Russia project, in which he was a co-founder, Baryshnikov sent an open letter to President Vladimir Putin.

This project, created after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, helps Ukrainian refugees, as well as people forced to leave Russia.

“Your construction sites out of fear ordered to block our website – the website of real Russia. Their fear is understandable. He gives us the assurance that he is right,” Baryshnikov said in his speech. He wrote that even as a child in Latvia, the role of an occupier did not suit him, the son of a Russian officer. And since the age of 26, for almost half a century, he has lived “as a man of the free world”.

“People like us have brought more honor to the Russian world than all your imprecise high-precision weapons. Your Russian world – the world of fear, the world that burns Ukrainian language textbooks – will not exist as long as we We will be vaccinated from childhood against this scourge. Our world must be – despite all your blockages. We know how to preserve the values ​​of our Russian world. And your world, if it does not wake up, will die of its fears, “said the appeal of the artist to the President of the Russian Federation.

People who know Baryshnikov speak of his responsiveness and generosity. Along with his friend Joseph Brodsky, he helped Roman Kaplan open the Russian Samovar restaurant in Manhattan, which became a popular club for discerning Russian and American audiences. Later, he also helped former Soviet actor Oleg Vidov and his wife, American Joan Borsten, to release a collection of Soviet cartoon videos in the United States and other countries, giving it the name from “Mikhail Baryshnikov: Stories from My Childhood”.

“A legend, a star, one of the few living Russians who have firmly entered both the pantheon of greats and the Western unconscious (they say ‘ballet’ – they mean Baryshnikov), wrote the critic of theater and journalist Sergei Nikolayevich in his essay on Facebook “None of the Russian artists has reached such heights of popularity, fame, ubiquity, such cachets and universal love.”

“I wish Misha Baryshnikov new works and enough strength to perform them,” said Nina Alovert.

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