Baryshnikov's Fascinating Choices

May 19, 2010







Baryshnikov invited three choreographers to make solos on him and two others to perform their own solos. “Unrelated Solos” was an amazing program, not only because of how different these artists are, but also to see how wide-ranging Baryshnikov’s aesthetic tastes have become.


Misha has worked with both Steve Paxton and David Neumann in the past, so it was natural to share space with them. And yet, he could have made it all about himself and plenty in the audience would be happy. He still has a spring in his step and an astounding dramatic range. But this program reminded us of the reason for Baryshnikov Arts Center—because he is committed to showing the work of artists he admires.


I hadn’t seen Paxton dance in years. He’s 71 and his body is more limited now. But the characteristic long neck, rooted legs, chin tucking in and snaking out, were all there in his new solo Beast. He never does anything to speed up or cater to an audience in any way. A daunting, awesome stubbornness takes over and he seems possessed. At times he froze so still that he seemed to be made of stone. Or he would tilt back, staring into the lights as though some outer source compelled him to do so. He looked like a craggy, crazed fisherman struggling with a huge unseen fish.


No one could be more different from Steve Paxton than David Neumann. David likes to perform for an audience—almost talk to an audience. In Dose he points at you, scoops his hat back onto his head, breaks into a slippery little soft shoe—all with great style. In Tough the Tough (redux), he lugs around six folding chairs until he falls splat, all of them clattering to the floor. His facial expression is completely endearing, surprised by his own sudden moves. He’s an everyman who’s about to make every mistake.


Each of the three choreographers who made solos for Baryshnikov highlighted a different aspect of his dancing or his celebrity—ingeniously. Benjamin Millepied’s Years Later juxtaposed Misha-live with Misha-on-film. In one film he’s a teenager in training, with beautifully lifted chest and plush pliés. The two different-aged Mishas played tricks on each other.


Ratmansky’s Valse-Fantasie, very much a fantasy, captures the star’s quicksilver ability to tell a story through mime—and to switch genders in the telling.


In For You, Susan Marshall set Misha the task of bringing up three audience members, sitting them in chairs, and dancing close to them as separate individuals. In one case, he came close enough for a woman watcher to reach out and hug, or to faint with excitement. Neither happened, although it could in the future.



Above: Mikhail Baryshnikov in
Valse-Fantasie by Alexei Ratmansky. Below: Steve Paxton in Beast. Photos by Julieta Cervantes, courtesy BAC