What is Mikhail Barishnikov up to, that indescribable dancer, certainly the greatest of the 20th century? For now, she turned 75 last January and very recently, on the stage of a New York theater, she played a central character in The hunting pistolwork of Yasushi Inoue, Japanese author.
Actually, there would be one possible way to describe Mikhail Barishnikov as a dance artist: no one like him has gone through so many different phases during his careerfrom the more rigorously academic ballets to the more experimental pieces, with absolute commitment in every phase.
It is not the first time, however, that he works as an actor; Indeed He played the most diverse roles in cinema, theater and television. And as a matter of color, it has been mentioned several times in the more than famous series The Simpsons.
A span of four decades
Audiences in Buenos Aires were lucky enough to witness Mikhail Barishnikov’s unique aesthetic evolution over the course of four decades.
When he first arrived in Buenos Aires in 1979, it had been just five years since he left the Kirov Ballet to live and work in the West.
But by then he had also left ABT (American Ballet Theatre), the big New York company that had hired him as a star dancer shortly after the dancer had applied for asylum in Canada. For a year he had been part of the New York City Ballet, the legendary ensemble directed by the no less legendary George Balanchine.
Thus the works he brought to the Teatro Colón with his partner Patricia Mc Bride (also a member of the NYCB) represented his transition from academic to neoclassical works: in two programs shared with the Ballet del Colón the couple danced the pas de deux de the corsair –a piece of bravura by Marius Petipa-, Harlequin of Balanchine, and the exquisite Other Dancesby Jerome Robbins.
It is true that part of the audience was more appreciative of the never-before-seen virtuosity that Misha (short for Mikhail and as Barishnikov is usually called) exhibited in the corsair, but it was already the beginning of the dancer’s farewell to those academic roles which at that point had bored him a bit.
always new horizons
Barishnikov’s decision to leave the Kirov Ballet, and therefore his country foreverhad been a reaction to the artistic conservatism of Soviet ballet. The need to seek out new – and more stimulating – professional horizons has moved him ever since.
During his early years at American Ballet Theater he danced to the repertoire that audiences expected of him; but then she sent George Balanchine – the influential Russian-born choreographer and ballet’s great innovator – several signals that she wanted to work with him. Something difficult to accomplish: Balanchine was not at all interested in having stars in his company and he had already turned down Alicia Markova and Rudolf Nureyev.
“What could he do with us? Balanchine said at the time. We have nothing for him, and our ballerinas are too tall (note: Barishnikov is 1.65). Plus the audience would be screaming if I didn’t jump all the time.”
But Balanchine eventually relented and things settled down: Barishnikov would join the New York City Ballet as a regular member, with a salary of seven hundred and fifty dollars a week (at ABT he made four thousand dollars a show) and her debut came on a Sunday during the summer season in a matinee show. No previous promotion has been made.
The critic John Corry later wrote The New York Times: “Perhaps Mr. Barishnikov’s debut could have gone even more unnoticed. However, it’s hard to imagine how.
Misha’s first visit to Buenos Aires therefore corresponds to this period that we can define as neoclassical.
Getting to contemporary dance
The second, in 1993, almost coincides with the beginning of the career of White Oak Dance, a small contemporary repertoire group that had been created by Misha and choreographer Mark Morris three years earlier. They brought works by Twyla Tharp, by Morris himself and by Hanya Holm, one of the great pioneers of American modern dance.
Misha was another dancer in the ensemblewith such constancy that until the very end, when the applause and shouts of the audience asked him to come forward and say hello alone, he tenaciously did not give up and kept his place with his companions.
In 1998 he returned to Colón again with an entirely solo and very radical program. He brought along the White Oak Ensemble, a chamber ensemble that accompanied him in the choreography.
Fifty-year-old at the time of his presentation here, the dancer had physical faculties intact despite multiple injuries accumulated throughout his career. But what was most admirable was the dimension of his interpretive work.
His figure filled the immense stage of the Colón with the austerity of Dance for three drums and a flute, from the Japanese Tamasuro Bando; with a moving tribute to Jerome Robbins and with a phenomenal improvisation on the amplified beats of his own heart.
Misha’s last three visits to Buenos Aires were again of a very different character.
In 2010 he arrived with the prodigious dancer Ana Laguna to perform two duets by contemporary Swedish choreographer Mats Ek.
In 2014, together with the actor Willem Dafoepresented Old (“The Old Woman”) directed by Robert Wilson.
In 2017, Wilson himself was responsible for staging letter to a man (“Letter to a Man”), whose only performer was Barishnikov and was inspired by the personal diaries of the legendary ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky.
Public man, private man
In 2005, Mikhail Barishnikov Art Center inaugurated named after him, a huge space in New York City whose purpose is to present innovative forms of dance, theater and music; includes artists-in-residence programs and performances with affordable tickets.
Parallel to this hectic life, his most intimate sphere is curiously very stable and is kept in private order.
After a four-year relationship with the actress Jessica Lang -they had a daughter, Aleksandra, who is 42 today- and more or less short relationships, including the one with Lisa MinelliMisha met Lisa Rinehart, his companion of more than thirty years. They have three children and two grandchildren; Her family, he said in a 2018 interview, is the most important goal of his life.
In another interview, done at the end of 2022, he was asked: “what advice would you have given yourself when you were a young dancer?” Barishnikov’s answer was as follows: “Don’t waste your time. Always learn. He studies languages, literature, mathematics, geography. Take a step beyond dance. Broaden your horizons, broaden your imagination.”
Charles Hurd is an entertainment journalist for News Rebeat. He brings a fresh and engaging voice to the world of pop culture, covering the latest developments in film, television, music, and more.