Friday, March 4, 2016

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Joseph Brodsky, in a Song of Exiled Russians By Marina Harss

It may seem odd that the poet Joseph Brodsky, a man who had little time for ballet — “the art of better days,” he called it in a 1975 poem — should have counted among his closest friends the Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. (The poem, in fact, was dedicated to him.) Brodsky was eight years older than Mr. Baryshnikov, and in his friend’s dancing he saw something more than ballet, something, as he told the Russian musicologist Solomon Volkov, closer to metaphysics. Mr. Baryshnikov remembers first reading Brodsky’s poetry at 16, just arrived in Leningrad from Riga, Latvia, to study ballet. “The magnetism was there,” Mr. Baryshnikov said recently in a room at the Baryshnikov Arts Center lined with prints of St. Petersburg; his poetry “respected man’s brain and heart and dignity.” This was a year after Brodsky’s trial, in 1964, for “social parasitism,” a Kafkaesque exercise. The trial transcript had circulated secretly, and Brodsky’s sang-froid on the stand turned him into a symbol of resistance and artistic freedom. (He was imprisoned, and spent a year and a half in internal exile.) The two were introduced at a party in New York, soon after Brodsky’s forced departure from the Soviet Union (in 1972) and Baryshnikov’s 1974 defection; they immediately became close. During their 22-year friendship — Brodsky died at 55 in 1996 — they spoke often, opened a restaurant, drank and took walks along the Hudson. Last year, Mr. Baryshnikov, who has made increasingly frequent forays into theater, teamed with the Latvian director Alvis Hermanis, director of New Riga Theater, for “Brodsky/Baryshnikov,” a one-man show, which opened in Riga in October and comes to the Baryshnikov Arts Center, starting Wednesday, March 9. It’s not really a play, or a poetry recital, but something in between. Mr. Hermanis has layered together poems from throughout Brodsky’s career. On Skype from Milan, he explained his concept: “I said to Misha, you have to imagine you are not alone onstage. There are two people, and there’s something going on between them, some secret.” Mr. Baryshnikov recently talked about Brodsky and the show. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation. At several points, you perform dreamlike dances accompanied by the recorded sound of your voice, or Brodsky’s voice. I don’t really dance in the show, but I move quite a bit. Hermanis and I decided there shouldn’t be any choreography per se but reaction, emotion, like a body language or electricity running through the body. There are references to Butoh and to flamenco. In a poem about flowers, I suggested using an element of onnagata [female impersonation] from Kabuki. Because, what can be closer to a beautiful flower than that? You talked to him every day? Almost every day, even when I was traveling. We talked about mundane things. He liked to walk. From Morton Street where he lived up the Hudson or East River, the Brooklyn Bridge, the East Village. He was fascinated by the light and proximity to the water. What do you miss the most about him? Some kind of internal security of friendship. The first years after he went, I felt, even though I have some very close friends, many of whom he introduced me to, very lonely, practically alone, though I had children and my wife and my family. With him, I always felt security if I wanted to talk about something private. International New York Times Amazon BAC