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By Kina Poon
Last night at the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation's "Bright Lights, Shining Stars" gala at New York University's Skirball Center, Mikhail Baryshnikov was recognized with the Ambassador for the Arts award. In presenting it, fellow superstar Liza Minnelli gave a tribute that was both riotously funny—she recalled being "terrified" when he invited her to dance with him in his Baryshnikov on Broadway TV special—and deeply moving. "He made us understand why he had the moves, why he danced, why he had to dance," she intoned. "Every move was motivated from something that was deep inside, secret, and passionate—a need that gave him no choice."
Minnelli and Baryshnikov, with NYCDAF founder and director Joe Lanteri. Photo by Eduardo Patino, Courtesy NYCDAF.
Misha, his effortless charisma belying a bone-dry sense of humor ("I feel like Stephen Colbert," he remarked, in response to the deafening applause and standing ovation he received when he appeared onstage) still has that magic. Even standing up there, riffing, he is still the endlessly fascinating artist who inspired legions of dancers to pursue their art. In earlier remarks, Leslie Browne, who starred with Baryshnikov in The Turning Pointe, said that even with dancer parents, she didn't get ballet until she saw him perform. Julie Kent, the last American Ballet Theatre dancer picked by Baryshnikov, spoke beautifully about him as a mentor and teacher, remembering that the first time they shared a wing onstage at the Kennedy Center, "I thought I would die." I loved that iconoclast Richard Move, probably best known for his brilliant portrayals of Martha Graham, spoke to Baryshnikov's vision in creating the Baryshnikov Arts Center, a hub of creativity that nurtures artists like Move through residency programs. Baryshnikov himself joked that he contemplated bringing an empty chair onstage (in reference to Clint Eastwood's "performance art" last week at the Republican National Convention) and having a "conceptual moment."
Photo by Eduardo Patino, Courtesy NYCDAF.
But the pieces performed in his honor were concretely classical. Sascha Radetsky and Sarah Lane of ABT performed a sparkling rendition of Don Q's Act III grand adage, and Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild of New York City Ballet swept through Christopher Wheeldon's Mercurial Manoeuvers with abandon.
Radetsky and Lane whip through Don Quixote. Photo by Eduardo Patino, Courtesy NYCDAF.
In addition to performances from Ballet Next, Ballet Hispanico, and Complexions, the gala (of which Dance Magazine is a sponsor) also featured many of the talented young dancers who've received college scholarships from NYCDAF. In just two years, the Foundation, with its college partners, has awarded over $5 million to about 100 promising students. We wish them a wonderful year!