Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ana Laguna to Perform in Israel

Events, Performances, Video Views

Video: Trailer for Mats Ek’s Place with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ana Laguna

An expectant buzz traveled through the crowd.  A constellation of flashbulbs went off.   A row of red recording lights switched on.   A sea of pens was poised above blank paper.   “It’s all very exciting,” acknowledged the Suzanne Dellal Centre’s director, Yair Vardi, with a smile.

It was a very exciting press conference indeed.  Two legendary dancers – Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ana Laguna – were seated in Studio A to discuss their upcoming performances at Suzanne Dellal on Saturday June 26 and at the Herzliya Performing Arts Center on June 28-30. The program, titled “Three solos and a duet,” showcases the sublime artistry of these great talents in works by equally masterful choreographers.  The pair will dance together in an excerpt from Mats Ek’s Solo for Two (1996) and in Ek’s Place (2007).  Baryshnikov will also perform Benjamin Millepied’s Years later (2006 & 2009) and Valse-Fantasie (2009) by Alexei Ratmansky, whom the dancer calls a “salvation” for ballet in the U.S.

Baryshnikov explained, “This program is highly personal, in many respects,” noting that it “[reflects] some kind of values which we both pursue on stage” including “life experiences and the complexities of people who have lived.”  He further opined that although the program is composed of shorter works, “It’s not just a salad with little appetizers.  Each piece means something.”

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ana Laguna in Mats Ek’s Place (Ställe). Photo by Bengt Wanselius.

While the press conference was ostensibly geared to promote these eagerly anticipated concerts, it was a remarkable opportunity to hear one of the dance world’s most iconic figures reflect on his illustrious career and offer his perspective on a variety of issues within the broader dance field.  Indeed, as members of the crowd eagerly peppered Baryshnikov with questions (Laguna preferred to remain silent, smiling warmly throughout), the discussion grew remarkably wide-ranging.

At times, the questions touched on political issues. When asked if he had considered canceling his appearance in Israel, as several famous musicians have done in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident, Baryshnikov replied, “No, I didn’t.  I made this commitment a long time ago;” he also emphasized later, “Art should not be about politics.”  He added at another point in the conversation, “I have a lot of friends in Israel – former classmates, people that I danced with, dancers that I admired.  Hopefully, Ana and I will meet a new generation of your audience and dance lovers.”

Another reporter noted that next week marks the 36th anniversary of Baryshnikov’s defection from the U.S.S.R. and asked him how he felt about his decision to leave.  In response, the dancer talked about the challenge of acclimating to the United States and remarked, “[My defection] was a necessity at that time, a very serious decision and a very difficult decision.”

On a lighter note, one attendee observed that a younger generation knows Baryshnikov not as a brilliant dancer but as Aleksandr Petrovsky, Carrie Bradshaw’s love interest in the popular television series Sex and the City.  “Isn’t that a horrifying thought!” laughed Baryshnikov before explaining that although he enjoyed this acting gig, he does not miss playing the role.

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ana Laguna in Mats Ek’s Place (Ställe). Photo by Bengt Wanselius.

But most of the inquiries focused on Baryshnikov’s dancing itself, and several people referred back to his ballet roots in their questions.  Calling ballet his “alma mater,” the Kirov-trained dancer remarked, “The knowledge of the a-b-c of classical dance helped me,” attributing his longevity and coordination to his early background in ballet.  He also asserted, “I always believed that classical dance can be the most expressive kind of dance even though it only has a few steps.”

While one reporter mentioned that he had avidly watched videos of Baryshnikov’s interpretations of canonical ballet roles, the dancer said he himself was not a fan of filming performance.  “I think the video gives a very murky layer of text to your performance,” he stated.  “I believe that dance is a live form of art.”  Baryshnikov offered up a few gems about this live art during the conversation.  “It’s always a chutzpah to go onstage and know that you are receiving money to do something you love!” he exclaimed.   Yet performance for him is far more than a living.  “Those few minutes onstage in front of an audience are the closest to any kind of spirituality,” he said.

Regarding the current state of his art form, Baryshnikov observed that today’s dancers “are extraordinarily gifted” and “can do anything.”  But with the recent loss of such creators as Pina Bausch and Merce Cunningham, he admits, “We are a bit lost. I’m luckily not a choreographer . . . There’s always been pressure to create something in the highest order.  It’s always a bit of Russian roulette when you create something.”

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ana Laguna in Mats Ek’s Place (Ställe). Photo by Bengt Wanselius.

Addressing a question about the difficulties of dancing in his 50s and 60s, Baryshnikov noted that he has performed different repertory as he has aged.  He stopped appearing in the ballet classics in his late thirties and turned instead to contemporary choreography.  “Always the next project kept me on my toes, so to speak,” he punned, listing a series of renowned choreographers – Twyla Tharp, Mark Morris, Merce Cunningham – who kept him onstage.  His current repertory in fact demands the particular skills of a mature, seasoned performer rather than a younger, physically virtuosic dancer; indeed, he argued, the duets danced by himself and Laguna would look odd if performed by dancers in their twenties.

As his dance performances have become less frequent, Baryshnikov has broadened his activities, investigating the possibilities of acting in cinema and the theater.  In 2005, he founded the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York, which presents works in a variety of disciplines and supports artists’ exploration through residencies and fellowships.  Eventually, Baryshnikov’s influence will shift offstage.  “I know it’s the end of the road for me.  Not a painful or sad but bittersweet occasion,” he acknowledged.  Baryshnikov said that whether or not he continues to perform “depends on the material that choreographers offer.”  “Dancers rely on the mercy of choreographers,” he noted.

Let us hope choreographers are merciful for a little while longer.

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