Baryshnikov: A lifetime of movement

The renowned dancer evokes the spirit of the celebrated poet in ‘Brodsky/Baryshnikov.’

‘Brodsky/Baryshnikov’ (photo credit: JANIS DEINAT)
(photo credit: JANIS DEINAT)
The first rule of the performing arts is “One must know when to exit the stage.” In Mikhail Baryshnikov’s case, the real virtue has been to know when not to leave it. At 67 years of age, the famed dancer has shown audiences and fans a different trajectory for the aging body in motion, one that abounds with elegance, poise and innovation. This month, Baryshnikov will return to Tel Aviv with his newest evening, Brodsky/ Baryshnikov, which will run at the Suzanne Dellal Center.
Baryshnikov was born and raised in Riga. Having kicked off a promising career at the Kirov Ballet, the rising star defected to North America in 1974, a move that is portrayed in the 1985 film White Nights. Baryshnikov was invited to work as a principal dancer with George Balanchine at the New York City Ballet. Though not the tallest or most flexible of dancers, Baryshnikov quickly became a crowd favorite. His charisma and pure unbridled passion for movement shone through every role he danced, flooding the stage with energy.
Throughout his dance career, Baryshnikov fostered his dramatic skills. In 1977, he received recognition for his role in the film The Turning Point. Three decades later, he reinvented himself as Aleksandr Petrovsky, Carrie Bradshaw’s lover on the TV series Sex and the City.
As he grows older, the ultimate dancer has begun to meld the two threads in his life – dance and theater.
In 2011, Baryshnikov presented to Tel Aviv audiences In Paris, a stage adaptation of an Ivan Bunin story. The shows were sold out and were received with warmth, if not a touch of confusion. While there was far less dancing than the devout Baryshnikov fans had expected, In Paris managed to keep their rapt attention.
Four years later, Baryshnikov has chosen to begin the world tour of Brodsky/Baryshnikov in Israel. Directed by Alvis Hermanis, it is a séance in the form of a one-man show. Through it, Baryshnikov channels his long-passed friend and confidant, the celebrated poet Joseph Brodsky. The two artists hail from Riga, now in Latvia, then part of Leningrad. Brodsky’s daughter, a dancer, had crossed paths with Baryshnikov many times; however, the two men became close only after defecting to the United States.
Shortly after arriving in New York in 1974, the 26-year-old Baryshnikov was invited to a party. There, among Russian artists and intellectuals, Baryshnikov spotted Brodsky.
“He was sitting, smoking, very red, very handsome. He looked at me, smiled and said, ‘Mikhail, take a seat.
We have a lot to talk about.’ He gave me a cigarette, my hands were trembling. For me he was a legend,” Baryshnikov recounted to a Riga magazine.
After that evening, Baryshnikov and Brodsky were thick as thieves. They spoke on a regular basis and made a habit of doing the town together. To this day, Baryshnikov credits Brodsky with giving him his start in New York.
Now, perhaps to commemorate 20 years since the poet’s passing, Baryshnikov has chosen to revisit Brodsky’s spirit through the poet’s writings.
The show opens with a suitcasecarrying Baryshnikov seated on stage.
The energy and robustness of his youth have cleared the way for something deeper, slower and more intentional.
“This is the most private and important work I’ve done in my life,” Baryshnikov said of the performance.
As he recites Brodsky’s poems, the beautifully aged dancer improvises movements. The choice not to overtly choreograph this work, a combined decision of Baryshnikov and Hermanis, leaves room for spur-of-the-moment impulses to come into play.
“Life is the sum of tiny movements,” Baryshnikov calls out at the end of the show. The words, written by Brodsky, so perfectly describe an eternity spent dancing.
‘Brodsky/Baryshnikov’ will run at the Suzanne Dellal Center on January 19 to 24. For tickets: