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Pop culture junkie, native of Las Vegas, not really a writer.
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Thursday, August 9, 2007

Mikhail Baryshnikov

I'm not sure exactly when my obsession with Mikhail Baryshnikov started but I'm pretty sure it was sometime in high school. I took ballet classes very briefly as a small child, as most little girls do, but that was it. I was not and am not a dancer myself, but I have always loved everything about the dance world: its grace, its beauty, its strength, its magic. The classical ballets were my favorites: Giselle, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker. I fell for Baryshnikov after discovering the movie The Turning Point. He was just so gorgeous and no one danced like him: great flying leaps where he seemed to hang in the air longer then seemed natural like some freaky ballet superhero!

My dream of seeing Baryshnikov dance live came true when I was nineteen. He was peforming with his White Oak Dance Project at UNLV's Ham Hall. The day before the show I got horribly sick with a virus, and ended up at the performance with a high fever. My boyfriend at the time went with me to the show and he was actually very sweet and took care of me during the performance, making sure I was awake whenever Misha was on stage, because I was so sick with fever I would kind of doze off in my seat. Suffice to say, I don't remember that much about it. I do remember Misha doing this little like golf routine, very cute and quite funny.

Anyway, I was so excited when I saw that Baryshnikov's new Hell's Kitchen Dance Project would be performing in Reno as part of their month long arts festival Artown. My dear friend Amy, who lives in Reno, was a ballet dancer when she was young and I knew she'd be thrilled if I came up so we could go to the show together. It was incredible. The Pioneer Center in downtown Reno is quite small, and we had amazing seats about 10 rows back from the stage so could see everything perfectly. The minute Baryshnikov walked out on stage the entire room kind of gasped and then held it's breath in anticipatory unison. The first dance was called “Years Later” and on a huge screen at the back of the stage they showed footage of a very young dancing Baryshnikov and then our present day live Baryshnikov danced along with the footage. There was a light in the very front of the stage so that it projected his shadow on the screen, and he could move up or downstage to make the shadow bigger or smaller so that there were sometimes three Baryshnikovs dancing: the young one onscreen, the 59 year old live one, and his shadow. It was quite touching, and even a little bit sad. The onscreen Baryshnikov was the young strong dancer, doing all his great jumps and leaps that the now older Baryshnikov has a hard time doing. He would even make fun of himself and laugh along with the audience as he bent over holding his back like an old man, throwing his hands up in the air like he won’t even try to keep up with his young self anymore. Baryshnikov is so humorous and down to Earth - it's really refreshing and interesting considering how superhuman he truly is. The final dance featured Baryshnikov again along with the dozen or so young dancers in his hand picked company. It was wonderful but again quite touching and sad, a passing of the torch kind of thing. He would dance with them, but also watch them in amazement and with a bit of nostalgia and regret in his posture and demeanor. You knew he was envying their youth. And then it's not like Baryshnikov blends in with these dancers. It's very obvious: there's freaking Mikhail Baryshnikov dancing onstage, 30 years older than all of the other dancers, and although some of them are excellent, they will never be as good as he was and still is. But this dance titled “Come In” was like Baryshnikov inviting them to give it a damn good try. All in all, it was a great experience getting to see him before he stops dancing altogether, something I will always cherish. Clumsy old desert rat me got to experience the greatest dancer that ever lived, Mikhail Baryshnikov, live in person, not once, but twice.

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