"The reluctant prodigal" by Joan Acocella. The Guardian, February 28 1998.
Here is a quote that might interest some of you about Alexander Pushkin, Baryshnikov's teacher at the Vaganova Choreographic Institute. It is from a wonderful article -- part interview, part history and part description -- about Mikhail Baryshnikov's return to Riga in 1997 for the first time since his defection to the West.
"Next to his mother, Pushkin was probably the most important person in Baryshnikov's early life. Pushkin had begun his own ballet training in the studio of Nikolai Legat, who had helped train Nijinsky. When Baryshnikov joined his class, Pushkin was 57, and past dancing, but he had performed with the Kirov for almost 30 years, mostly in secondary roles. `Pas de deux, pas de trois,' Baryshnikov says. `Sometimes substitute for a principal, but he was not principal type. Not very handsome -- big nose, long legs, short body -- and not very expressive. But classical, classical. Old-school, traditional, square. Academician. Usually, it's those kind of people, people who dance 25 years the same parts, who know more about technique than people who are advancing and trying out other sort of areas. Twenty-five years you come back after summer vacation and tune your body into same routine, you figure out timing, you figure out method.'
Pushkin had begun teaching early, at the age of 25, and he soon specialised in men. His classroom manner was famously laconic. He rarely offered corrections, and when he did they were of the most elementary sort. (It was said at the school that he had two: `Don't fall' and `Get up.') Rather, as Baryshnikov explains it, what made Pushkin so effective was the logic of the step combinations he taught -- the fact that they were true not just to classical ballet but also to human musculature. They seemed right to the body, and so you did them right. And the more you did them, the more you became a classical dancer. Another thing about Pushkin, his students say, is that he was a developer of individuality. He steered the students towards themselves, helped them find out what kinds of dancers they were. `Plus,' Baryshnikov says, `he was extraordinary patient and extraordinary kind person. Really, really kind.'
If there is a point in classical art where aesthetics meet morals - where beauty, by appearing plain and natural, gives us hope that we, too, can be beautiful -- Pushkin seems to have stood at that point, and held out a hand to his pupils. In any case, he was a specialist in calming down teenage boys, getting them to work and to take themselves seriously. Out of his classroom in the Fifties and Sixties came the Kirov's finest male dancers -- notably Nikita Dolgushin, Yuri Soloviev, and Rudolf Nureyev."