Posts Tagged ‘Mikhail Baryshnikov’

Mikhail Baryshnikov: “Water is his church, Brodsky’s church.”

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

“I remember his voice, I remember the way he read.” Screenshot from Brodsky/Baryshnikov

We’ve written before about Mikhail Baryshnikov’s acclaimed Brodsky/Baryshnikov show, which blends the renowned dancer’s movements with the poetry of his friend, the Nobel poet Joseph Brodsky. (I hear rumors that the show, which debuted in the dancer’s native Riga, is coming to Berkeley, but so far it’s not showing up on any websites so far.)

However, we missed Neil Munshi’s Financial Times of London’s article, “Poetry and motion: Mikhail Baryshnikov on Joseph Brodsky”, which describes the two Russians’ long camaraderie. An excerpt:

“He loved to be by the embankment, because it reminded him of Leningrad, with the water and perspective,” Baryshnikov says. “In his poetry, there are so many poems about water, from the north to Venice, to the Hudson, to the Caribbean. He really worked on a metaphysical level about the water: the proximity, and the colour, and the essence of it. Water is his church, Brodsky’s church, because he grew up [with the] Neva River.” Baryshnikov has referred to Brodsky as his “university”, the man who gave him the higher education his dancing prevented him from receiving. Brodsky introduced him to not just the work of writers but to the writers themselves.

Screenshot from Brodsky/Baryshnikov

“He said that he was surprised how much poetry I know, which was a total exaggeration. He was trying to pay me a compliment, I don’t know why. But I would rather sit and listen to his conversations with Derek Walcott, and maybe half of it, I couldn’t understand. Or with Stephen Spender, or Czeslaw Milosz. He’d just talk about politics with Susan Sontag,” he says. Baryshnikov moved on to reading “Walcott from St Lucia, and Seamus Heaney in Ireland, or Louise Glück, in the States, or Mark Strand”.

“One of the first books Joseph gave me was a book of Mark Strand,” Baryshnikov says. “He said, ‘Mouse, have this.’ And I said, ‘Joseph, I don’t speak a word of English.’ It was at the very beginning. He said, ‘You will, and very soon, and we will read this man.’ And he was absolutely right.”  And there was always Brodsky. Baryshnikov keeps a full collection of his friend’s work in all of his homes and offices. “I always travel with one or two [of Brodsky’s] books. And some of them are still too difficult for me. I’m not pretending that I know his work inside-out at all,” he says. “I remember his voice, I remember the way he read. Sometimes he asked me to read. He said, ‘I want to hear a different voice, can you read this?’ Sometimes, I was lucky to be the first person to whom he read.”

Read the whole thing here.

Early days: Joseph Brodsky in Ann Arbor in the 1970s.

Brodsky/Baryshnikov: “I’m trying to remember his voice, his mannerisms.”

Sunday, March 6th, 2016


I have followed the travels of Mikhail Baryshnikov‘s Brodsky/Baryshnikov since its debut last fall in Riga, Latvia. Like the production itself, the choice of venue unites the two friends, now separated by death: The dancer and choreographer Baryshnikov was born in Riga, and began ballet lessons there at the age of nine; the Nobel poet Joseph Brodsky‘s mother was of Latvian heritage. Baryshnikov teamed with Latvian director Alvis Hermanis, director of New Riga Theater, to create a one-man show in memory of the Russian poet, who died in 1996.

Brodsky:Baryshnikov2The director explained the concept to the New York Times via Skype: “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.”

From the Paris Review:

“Those who expect the typical Baryshnikov pirouettes and splits … are likely to be disappointed,” Latvian critic Undine Adamaite wrote in Diena, a Latvian daily.

Indeed, Brodsky / Baryshnikov, which begins its international tour in Tel Aviv this winter before debuting in New York, in spring 2016, is far closer to theater than ballet, a meditation, in part, on aging and death. “It’s anti-ballet, it’s anti-choreography,” Hermanis said. “What Misha does with the body … it’s just like spontaneous electricity.” Hermanis and Baryshnikov did not hire a choreographer for the performance, which relies on improvisation. “These things are not fixed—each evening they’re slightly different … It’s not the possibility of dance, but the impossibility of dance.” There’s even a script, a departure from the ballets of Baryshnikov’s youth. This one is composed entirely of the poetry of Joseph Brodsky, Baryshnikov’s good friend, who died in 1996. The two could be said to star together in Brodsky / Baryshnikov, even if only one man enters the theater.

Brodsky:Baryshnikov3The audience took a collective breath when Baryshnikov first appeared on stage. He looks not the athlete he once was but a gaunt, bedraggled traveler, suitcase in hand, seated on a wooden bench below the broken fuse of a dilapidated Art Deco apartment with large, dusty window panes. He doesn’t speak. He makes the audience wait, Jim Wilson’s operatic “God’s Chorus of Crickets” playing in the background. Baryshnikov opens his suitcase, pulls out an alarm clock, some poetry books, and a bottle of Jameson (Brodsky’s favorite). He picks up a book, starts flipping through, whispering to himself, as if trying to pick one to read aloud. He finds one, and takes a swig.

Brodsky/Baryshnikov sold out in Latvia, traveled to Tel Aviv, and arrived, inevitably, in New York City, where it will debut next week at the Baryshnikov Art Center. From the “edited excerpts” of the New York Times interview:

Alvis Hermanis has said that the evening is almost like a séance with Brodsky.

It’s a little bit that. I almost never directly connect to the audience. It is like someone reciting poetry for his own enjoyment, like people sing in the shower. I’m trying to remember his voice, his mannerisms. Sometimes I imitate him. And suddenly the tape starts with Joseph’s own voice. His presence is what those poems are about.


Image via New Riga Theater

It has been said that, in part because of his sophisticated use of meter and rhyme, Brodsky’s poetry is untranslatable.

Joseph would argue with that. He used to translate himself with Richard Wilbur and others. But he would also argue that the best pleasure is you alone in the evening with the book in your hands. His idea was that only poets should read poems out loud. Mortals should read them quietly to themselves.

What would he have thought of the show?

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. He was very skeptical in general about the theater. He felt that the theater lacked truth. He wrote two plays himself but was always very clear that these works were intended for the reader, not to be performed in the theater. He always felt that it was a much more profound experience to read a play while lying on one’s couch.

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.

Read the whole Q&A here.