Dance in Review

In association with the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, The Cherry​​​​​ Orchard​​​​​ Festival​, ​​​​​a ​​​​​leading ​​​​​presenter ​​​​​of ​​​​​international ​​​​​artists, ​​​​theater companies ​​​​​and ​​​​​orchestras, ​​​​​presented ​​​​​the ​​​​​Chicago ​​​​​premiere​​​​​ of “Brodsky/Baryshnikov,” ​​​this past weekend. Chicago is one of three limited engagements of this production, including stops in Boston and Toronto earlier this year. This New Riga Theater and Baryshnikov Productions co-produced this piece, based on the poems of Russian Nobel Laureate Joseph Brodsky, which is performed in Russian by accomplished dancer and performer Mikael Baryshnikov. Inspired by the poetry of his long-time friend and with encouragement of director ​​​​​Alvis ​​​​​Hermanis, this entrancing play made its premier at the New Riga Theater, in Latvia on October 15th, 2010 and began its North American debut in 2016. We count ourselves lucky in Chicago, that the intimate setting of the Harris Theater is where “Brodsky/Baryshnikov” ​​ decided to make its premiere.
Commanding the stage against the backdrop of a moonlit sky and the haunting stillness of crickets in a still night (Jim Wilson’s “God’s Chorus of Crickets”), Baryshnikov enters through the rear doors of a train station vestibule. He is dressed in a dark suit, brown shoes and carrying a blue briefcase this character that enters the stage is a weary traveler, awaiting a slow arriving train.  Emptying a few of the contents in his bag, he prepares for his next leg of travel with an alarm clock, books of poetry and a bottle of Jameson.

Maybe it is the solitary sense of the character, alone at the station, or the eerie stillness of the night.  The haunting stillness continues to entrance you as Baryshnikov begins to mumble and whisper some of the poetry he is reading aloud. In this very personal interpretation of what can only be described as, an understanding of art and artist, could only have been done by a true friend. And it is done in a truly captivating fashion, even for those who don’t speak Russian.  As the English translations scroll across the awning of the train station, it almost seems unnecessary to focus your attention entirely on the poetry, as he expresses himself with interpretive dance, subtle facial nuances, and Japanese kabuki style movements. As Baryshnikov speaks, his voice washes over the once chatty and unsettled crowd, which has drawn them into silence to witness this internal conversation of men discussing life, aging, death, change and one’s own fatality amongst the flutter of butterfly wings, the ripples of water or the cries of one’s struggles. Nothing more so, emphasizes this exchange than about thirty minutes into the show when Baryshnikov begins to recite Brodsky’s poem “May 24, 1980” — a poem written on his fortieth birthday; the radio on the opposite bench starts to play. Brodsky’s voice fills the theater, overtaking that of Baryshnikov’s. It’s a somber reunion, to hear the voice of Brodsky reciting his poetry. 

The effect this conversation has on friends is eloquent and thought provoking. The images that Baryshnikov portrays defy the image we have of him, revealing a man of seventy-years-old. However, the control of his performance, the beauty in his grace, and the feeling emanating from each movement, has the audience reveling in the depth of the poetic arrangements and the emotions they evoke with such intensity that the audience leaves in quiet murmurs – we leave with pensive faces and contemplative stares.  This moving performance is one, not to miss, but to experience.

Published in Dance in Review



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