Unrelated Solos at BAC – Baryshnikov, Paxton and Neumann

So here’s the thing –  I had never seen Mikhail Baryshnikov dance before. I didn’t realize exactly what that was going to be like. Before I can even get to writing about the evening as a whole I just have to express the sheer wonder of watching Baryshnikov. He doesn’t even have to do anything. He is so completely in command of the stage, of his body, of the audience, that watching him mesmerizes you. He is a force of nature. Even at 62 (?) he moves with a grace, agility and accuracy that puts pretty much everyone else to shame. Its like, there are good dancers and there are great dancers and then there’s Baryshnikov. He just is. Wow.

Unrelated Solos delivered exactly what it promised – an evening of unrelated solos by three very different dancers, in very different styles. Not only that but Baryshnikov did three solos himself – one called Years later, choreographed by Benjamin Millepied, one called Valse-Fantasie choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky and a final piece called For You (Work-in-progress) choreographed in collaboration with Susan Marshall.

The evening started out with Years later in which Baryshnikov danced with video projections of himself. It started out as a witty, lighthearted piece with lots of little jokes between the projected image and the live dancer. However, it turned poignant when the projected image was actually archival footage of Misha dancing as a very, very young man. The older, live Misha danced in front of the projection with movements that referenced the film without replicating it. Eventually the filmed Misha turned a series of pirouettes and the film looked speeded up as he kept spinning and spinning and spinning, faster and faster as the live Misha did some very different, subtle movements in front of it. (I think, I have to admit I was focused on the film more at that point). Anyway, it was a nice moment and the piece as a whole was a great curtain raiser.

Next up was Steve Paxton with a world premiere called The Beast. Paxton is one of the founders of the Judson Dance Theater and the creator of Contact Improvisation – and this work showed those influences. It was probably the most challenging of the pieces as it was very, very minimal. Paxton was bathed in an ellipse of light that gradually turned directions as he explored the space and his body with small, confined movements. There was a sparse digital soundtrack of blips that sounded a little like a leaky faucet. But Paxton is masterful in his medium and while he didn’t indulge in grand gestures or flashy tricks, he exuded a focus and concentration that was hypnotizing. His accumulation of smallish movements kept me focused on trying to track how one gestures built or blended into another, wondering what kind of inner state of being he was bringing to the surface. I’ve seen enough minimalist dance to know the difference between noodling and art – and Paxton is definitely high art. Precise, thoughtful, concentrated and focused his body was extraordinarily disciplined and expressive within the range of movement he imposed on himself. It was really cool.

After Paxton was David Neumann who reprised an early work of his called Dose, from 1996. Dose is a witty post-modern cabaret to Tom Waits, displaying his characteristic subtle sense of humor.  Exuding downtown cool, Neumann glided around the stage like a sly huckster with a wink and a nod. He, too, is a masterful dancer. Its easy to get distracted by his physical humor and almost clownish choreography, but underneath the laughs is a serious dancer who is every bit as precise and focused as Paxton.

Then Baryshnikov returned with Valse-Fantasie which was almost like a mini-story-ballet. Apparently composer Mikhail Glinka wrote Valse-Fantasie at a time when he was infatuated with Yekaterina Kern, a famous high society beauty of the Napoleonic era in Russia. Circumstances kept them apart and Glinka went abroad to cure his heartache. Upon his return he discovered he no longer had feelings for her. Problem solved. In this piece Baryshnikov kind of hammed it up a bit, and the choreography showcased not only his ballet chops but his ability to tell entire pages of dialogue with a wink and a smile and a gesture.  It was amazing to watch him go – you could tell that he was only using a small portion of his Master Dancer Superpowers, and still the megawattage was delightful. Once again, not the most conceptual or heavy duty piece, but sheer wonder to watch.

This was followed by Neumann again, bringing back 2006’s Tough the Tough as Tough the Tough (redux). In this piece Neumann plays a character named Steve, who is the embodiment of all of humanity. He performs to text written by Will Eno and spoken by DJ Mendel which loosely chronicles the folly of Man. Once again Neumann exudes hipster cool and ironic humor, expressed through rigorously choreographed movement sequences and the occasional pratfall. It was a really enjoyable piece, smart and funny and well-performed.

The evening concluded with another solo by Baryshnikov – this one entitled For You. The title refers to the fact that throughout the course of the piece Baryshnikov pulls up three audience members, one at a time, and seats them in strategically placed folding chairs on the stage. He performs a small solo for each one and then makes the rounds, performing solos for each of them in sequence. Finally he puts a fourth, empty, chair onstage and performs a solo for it. It was really a wild piece – and I can only imagine how it must have felt to be pulled onstage by Baryshnikov and have him perform a solo right in front of you – but in front of an entire audience!!  The dance concluded with all the chairs being spotlit and then having the lights fade, with Baryshnikov being the last thing you see before blackness.

All in all it was an incredibly rich and rewarding evening, very well-curated to reflect three distinct and different approaches to contemporary dance. From Paxton’s earnest, intense minimalism to Neumann’s downtown highbrow/lowbrow dance-theater to Baryshnikov’s ballet-inflected supergenius, each of the dancers performed remarkably. It was really a rare opportunity to see three unique voices side by side, sharing a bill and bringing a whole universe of dance together onstage in one evening.

You probably can’t get tickets, but if you can, go check it out.

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