Baryshnikov and Laguna in Israel

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Place (Ställe) Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ana Laguna Photo by Bengt Wanselius
Place (Ställe) Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ana Laguna Photo by Bengt Wanselius

“It’s always Hutzpah to go onstage,” said Mikhail Baryshnikov to the crowd of starry-eyed photographers and journalists who attended the press conference this morning at the Suzanne Dellal Centre in Tel Aviv. Baryshnikov and Ana Laguna are in Israel to perform “Three Solos and a Duet” featuring the works of contemporary choreographers Mats Ek, Alexei Ratmansky and Benjamin Millepied. Performances will take place at the Suzanne Dellal Centre on June 26, and the Herzliya Performing Arts Center on June 28 – 30.

The dancers accepted the deluge of shutter-clicks with equanimity and charming smiles, responding generously to the many questions of their eager fans, who just happened to be journalists. Laguna, with her enigmatic smile was a strong presence in the room, yet remained silent for the most part and left her dance partner to express his views on everything from classical ballet, to video and performing on Israel. On the latter topic, Baryshnikov stated that he did not consider cancelling his visit to Israel, saying, “I made this commitment long ago. The US is hugely concerned…what happens right now in this part of the world painfully affects our country…I hope the conflict will be resolved as soon as possible,” and later in the conversation stated, “Art should not be about politics.”

Classical ballet formed Baryshnikov’s “first memories of professional dance. My mother took me to the opera, ballet, theatre…it triggered my imagination and left a dent on my heart. I believed it is the most expressive form of dance though it has only a few steps…when you bring something personal into it, it can be an extraordinary art.” Yet he noted that having stopped dancing classical ballet in his late 30s, at this point in his career, he has performed contemporary dance far longer than classical. Performance is intensely meaningful to Baryshnikov, who said that despite being an agnostic, “Those few minutes onstage in front of an audience are the closest to any kind of spirituality.”

It is perhaps not surprising to learn that he views video as giving “a very murky layer of text to your performance and does not compare to live. I believe that dance is a live form of art.”

Of the program the two will perform, Baryshnikov said that there are pieces that constitute “a personal statement, an accumulation of recent years working with choreographers…three very different choreographers of different generations. Nonetheless there is a connection; they reflect values which we both pursue.” According to Baryshnikov the works reflect the “life experiences and complexities of people who have lived…These are pieces done in recent years. The choreographer says – Ok, you are 60 years old. She or he has to re-evaluate their own ideas, get something out of you which other people don’t see…There is a solo in which I dance with my 17 year old self, dancing with my own image – kind of bizarre. Ratmansky is inspired by the legendary Russian composer – it’s about lost love, a look back to my upbringing, my tender age. The most powerful, most significant is Mats Ek’s “Place.” It’s fun to do, very challenging, dramatic dance theatre, very typical of Mats’ work.”

Looking at the current dance scene, which has recently lost many of its icons such as Pina Bausch, Maurice Bejart and Merce Cunningham, Baryshnikov said, “We are a bit lost. I’m luckily not a choreographer feeling a pressure to create something in the highest order. It’s a bit of Russian roulette to create something.” Noting that sometimes one fails and it’s necessary to “jump back on the horse. Not always the whole back, sometimes you hold onto the neck to survive.”

How is the dance experience different, now that he is in his 60s? Baryshnikov said, “I know it’s the end of the road for me. Not a painful or sad, but bittersweet occasion.” He dances with the knowledge, “This might be the last time I will dance…and it might happen soon.”

In talking about what inspires him, Baryshnikov recalled Robert Rauschenberg saying, “I wake up and think – what should I do? What shouldn’t I do? …I’ll do that. Take the chances, the extreme – demand from yourself the maximum.”

“Three Solos and a Duet”
Performed by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ana Laguna

Valse-Fantasie, Music by Glinka, Choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky
Solo for Two, Music by Arvo Part, Choreographed by Mats Ek
Years later, Music by Philip Glass, Choreographed by Benjamin Millepied
Place, Music by Flaskkvartetten, Choreography by Mats Ek
Suzanne Dellal Centre: 03-5105656, www.suzannedellal.org.il
Herzliya Centre for the Performing Arts: 1-700702929, kuppa@netvision.net.il

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