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Baryshnikov’s Choice

In Paris / Gerald W. Lynch Theater, NYC / August 1-5, 2012

In Paris:  It’s the quietest production imaginable, built—by Dmitry Krymov—through words (in Russian, French, and English), grainy black and white projected images (most often of words), haunting song, and a flying rig.   It dramatizes a short story by the Russian writer Ivan Bunin.  It sold out for five days in New York, at the intimate Gerald W. Lynch Theater, and is about to embark on an extended tour.

It tells the story of an aging exiled White Russian army general living a piercingly lonely existence in the City of Light.  In a low-end restaurant he meets a young woman—his waitress—in similar circumstances of displacement.  Of course  they fall in love, but nothing can blot out their loneliness.  Given their situation, they’re condemned to melancholy.  The tale is fragile in its impact; perhaps only Chekhov could have empowered it.

Mikhail Baryshnikov, who plays the leading role, undertook the production simply because he wanted to.  Lord knows he’s earned the privilege through his breathtaking performances as a classical dancer, first in Russia, then in America, which offered him not just personal freedom but a wide repertory; his exploration of modern and postmodern dance; and his creation of the Baryshnikov Arts Center in Hell’s Kitchen to foster the growth of the arts.  He owes the world nothing more and deserves the opportunity to do as he pleases.

Playing opposite him, the Russian actress Anna Sinyakina is subtle, attractive, and utterly believable.  Together, the pair illustrated how people can be all but destroyed by the loss of home (in all its meanings) and the society that once surrounded them like a second skin.

Alexei Ratmansky provided the choreography.  There isn’t much dancing in the show, and at 63, Baryshnikov is no longer even as fleet of foot as he was for years after he relinquished the role of classical ballet’s reigning prince.   He is still, however, a compelling presence and a model of intelligence and taste.

© 2012 Tobi Tobias


  1. Martha Ullman West says

    I read this story if I remember correctly, some years ago; if not this one, another very much like it. My father, who was born in Paris in 1905 and lived there, off and on, until 1933, used to talk to me about the white Russians he’d known there, the taxi drivers, the emigres, and on the top floor of the brownstone on Waverly Place that I grew up in there were also some white Russians whose lives had been truncated if not destroyed. Which is all by way of saying that the subject of this performance resonates with me and I would love to see it and hope that it tours to a theater near me. I happened to catch Baryshnikov in a movie he made a while back in which he is a Russian double agent; doesn’t dance a step, except when being chased and runs like a bat out of hell with extraordinary grace. I was struck by how mobile his face is; I think he’s a good actor. And pretty clearly a fearless artist.

  2. Elizabeth Kendall says

    Couldn’t get in, grrr.

    • Don’t worry, Elizabeth. As Erik Bruhn once said about a Baryshnikov-Kirkland performance he couldn’t attend with me because he suddenly felt ill, “If it’s any good, they’ll do it again.”

  3. Bruhn was right and wrong. If it was good enough to do again, what they do will probably be something subtly or not so subtly different. And those who get to see it on the rebound will arrive with expectations totally unlike those they would have brought to the original event. If I step into the river twice, is it the same river? Apologies to the pre-Socratics.

  4. I couldn’t agree more with your comment that Baryshnikov has earned the right to do as he pleases in regard to his artistic pursuits. His performances as a dancer transformed my realization of what was possible, not in terms of big splashy technique but in terms of energy, performance, theater, play, presence, timing, and command of one’s metier. His work as a promoter of emerging talent and producer of meaningful performances through both White Oak and BAC convince me of his genuine love and concern for the performing arts. It is evidence that he is involved with more than just himself.

    However, my take on the performance of “In Paris” was somewhat different from yours. It had a sad melancholic humor and sweetness about it, to be sure. Misha played Misha, which came close to the character of the story but didn’t reveal anything more universal or personal than that. His French was rather flat and inexpressive. I can’t judge the Russian parts but they seemed more alive. A lot of the production components like the a capella group work, the cardboard cut-out props, the aerial work, and the text projections, although clever and entertaining, didn’t quite add up to an expression of something larger than their parts. I was amused by Misha doing the classical ballet mime bit of catching the elusive sylph who this time could actually fly out of his grasp. But again, the clever idea did not translate into a felt experience for me. I remember leaving the theater the first time I saw him perform in the 70’s and wandering, dazed, through the New York streets trying to process what I had just seen. This time, due partially to my own evolution as well as his devolution, it was merely a pleasant performance which didn’t stay with me very long after I left.

    I so want Baryshnikov to succeed as a man of the theater and am terribly conscious of unfairly holding him to his “Ballet Days” standards of pyrotechnics. That is not what most impressed me then anyway. What I do hope to see is the same sense of commitment, energy, and presence. I felt that, for this performance, he just couldn’t quite invest entirely enough in that to make it happen or perhaps no one dares to direct him toward it, and I am saddened a bit. The performance seemed to be dessicated, an indication of something rather than something in itself.

  5. I’ve heard rave reviews of “In Paris” about both actors/actress. I just know if Misha’s presence on stage in a short or long play is as energizing as his ballets, other dance performances, and movies, he must grip the audience’s attention. I’ve been a fan for years, and even now, as I sometimes come across videos of his past performances, he can still make me smile. He has been great in everything he has tried, even his perfume, which I loved; I hate the fact that it’s now so hard to find. As they say, you get better with age, and he does.

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