Monday, 24 October 2016

Mikhail Baryshnikov in LETTER TO A MAN by Baryshnikov and Robert Wilson

     After reading some of the negative reviews, I dreaded seeing LETTER TO A MAN. The reviewers seemed to find it incoherent and dull. We (my husband and I) found it fascinating and quite clear in its intention. This is not a conventional play based on Nijinsky's mad memoir, but a dreamlike meditation on madness. The Nijinsky we see is not the great dancer-choreographer in one of his famous costumes, but a madman dressed like a mid-twentieth century cabaret performer (think of Joel Grey in CABARET). Reminiscences come into play here, but the work is more about obsessions--repeated words and phrases, stunning visual images, quirky movement to a soundscape filled with all sorts of musical fragments. There is no conventional chronology, no realistic sense of time or place. One accepts this work by its own rules or is alienated by it -- or both.
     At sixty-eight, Baryshnikov, one of the greatest dancers of the twentieth-century (I am glad I saw him in his prime with ABT and the City Ballet), is still a potent performer. Baryshnikov has always been open to new challenges. He moves gracefully and is blessed with an expressive face. He uses it more like a mime or clown than a serious actor, but that is what the part calls for.
     If you want a biographical piece on the subject, go to works like the 1980s film NIJINSKY. LETTER TO A MAN is far more abstract and poetic.

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