An Open Stance
Mikhail Baryshnikov, father of four. Baryshnikov, who has lived 10 years with the same woman, Lisa Rinehart. How is it that the paparazzi (even the dance-magazine paparazzi benign, persuasive) have not leaped upon him through the bushes of his home overlooking the Hudson River and stolen snaps of him throwing a baseball to his 8-year-old son, Peter? It is a curious thing that Baryshnikov has been so respectfully left alone.
It could be that his dancing is enough. There isnt a need to know more (there really isnt). But, more likely, the truth is that Baryshnikov is not interested in participating in the cult of personality. Hell talk to you if it means you might possibly see something more in his performances. Not in him, but in the choreography and through it to what he calls "an internal logic." Among the other phrases he invents to suggest where he wants to take you through his art: "a level of passion," "exposed personal complexity." He is serious about being serious (a word he favors), and it doesnt take any time to realize when talking to him that he is an exceptional listener. He wants to give something of himself; otherwise, you get the feeling, its a waste for him. The subject during a recent phone conversation was the program of solo works he is bringing to the Wiltern Theater for six performances, February 7, 8, and 11 through 14, presented by the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts and the Japanese American Cultural Community Center. Its his first U.S. solo concert tour. He just turned 50. To perform onstage alone at 50 in front of sold-out crowds at New Yorks City Center (which is where the tour started on January 21) is, in the words of one of Baryshnikovs choreographers, Kraig Patterson, nothing short of "heroic and kind." Why does Baryshnikov do it? "I am having such a great time," he says. "I like to work with these people." By "these people" he means choreographers Mark Morris, Dana Reitz, Sara Rudner and Patterson, and the White Oak Chamber Ensemble. (Baryshnikov never performs without live music, and the program at the Wiltern weaves dance and music pieces.) His choice of choreographers tells you exactly where he is living at this moment in time. He starts by talking about José Limóns Chaconne, created in 1942 by the legendary modern dance choreographer to an excerpt from Bachs Partita No. 2 in D minor. Baryshnikov has been performing this piece for a number of years, but never in L.A., and hes still changing it, mining from it new information about what he calls Limóns "personal cadenza for a human soul." "The music is one of the most gorgeous pieces Bach wrote," he says. "And Josés response has extraordinary simplicity, vigor and elegance. The choreography is such a handsome piece. You have to protect yourself, not to overdance and not think of yourself as a dancer. You have to almost underdance its the most difficult task." The 1942 production of Chaconne was not embraced by critics, causing Doris Humphrey, one of Limóns teachers and a distinguished American choreographer in her own right, to write to TheNew York Times John Martin in its defense: "I see in the Chaconne implications of what one of the Greek philosophers meant when he said, Every man should dance in order to understand the State and be a good citizen. Here are courage, balance in every sense, authority without boastfulness, power tempered with intelligence, the possibilities of the whole mature man brought to a high degree of perfection." I read the passage to Baryshnikov, whose acquaintance with music is intimate; he speaks of dead modern-dance pioneers as if they are friends. Do Hum phreys words about Chaconne ring true to his experience? "Chaconne is an extraordinary opportunity to project your personal interpretation. Its extremely personal," he says. "Thats why its such a challenge. There is an obvious connection, somehow, between all the pieces on the programs. Whether they were made in 1942 or yesterday, theyre all under the same sky . . . They are all about the dignity of man." While this "Evening of Music and Dance" venture may appear to be a sudden contrivance, having been added into the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts season long after the brochures went out, Baryshnikov says hes been thinking about going solo for years. He launched parts of this program in Prague last fall and then made a historic return trip to Riga, Latvia, where he was born. He dedicated the solo concert to his mother, who committed suicide when he was 12. Accompanying him to Riga were Rinehart, two of his children and Joan Acocella, an American journalist who reported the event in the January 19 issue of TheNew Yorker. In a rare emotional moment, Baryshnikov choked on tears when he addressed the staff and pensioners of the Latvian National Opera house and ballet school, who he had invited to a rehearsal. They were of the generation before him. They were his heritage, his old school. "And theyre all of them in me, in my body, in my brain," Baryshnikov later told Acocella. "You know, you learn to dance when youre very young. And, in subconsciousness, you take pieces from every person. Even the worst dancers have two moves, one move, and you say, What was that? How did he do that? And already its in you. Thats why I . . . thats why it was very moving. Because, you know, I owe them." The other works on his solo program demonstrate Baryshnikovs sense of allegiance and history. Twyla Tharp brought him into the world of postmodern dance with Push Comes to Shove in 1976, and one of her dancers, Sara Rudner, has conceived (with sound artist Christopher Janney) HeartBeat: mb for Baryshnikov, an improv isational piece in which a wireless device is attached to the dancers chest so the audience can hear the amplified sound of his pulse. (It makes him feel "translucent," Baryshnikov says, while Anna Kisselgoff of TheNew York Times noted that hearing his heartbeat made the audience "visibly nervous.") This work is paired with Dana Reitzs Unspoken Territory. Mark Morris, who co-founded the White Oak Dance Project with Baryshnikov years ago, is represented by Three Russian Preludes, a relatively new work set to pieces by Shostakovich that has never been seen in L.A. Finally, Kraig Patterson one of Morris dancers, who has already made three dances for Baryshnikov and White Oak has created Tryst to Bachs Concerto No. 3 in D minor. "Mishas done a lifetime of growing, and you can see it," says Patterson. "When he was a single and most eligible bachelor, he danced that way. Now hes dancing with a knowingness of fatherhood. Hes a big family man. Whenever I call him at home, a baby is crawling on him or hes playing ball. They lead a very simple life he knows when to go home and take care of family." If, as Baryshnikov says, everything in the dances is personal "personal anxiety and personal hopes and personal attitudes toward music and time" then this paternal image, so rarely glimpsed, will be onstage at the Wiltern, too. The greatest living dancer of our time, now 50, has nothing to hide.