Posts Tagged ‘Alvis Hermanis’

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.