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The 50th anniversary of Baryshnikov's defection


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It's behind a paywall, but journalist John Fraser, who was directly involved in Baryshnikov's defection, has also published a lengthy anniversary piece in the Globe and Mail. I'll try to pick out the salient bits without exceeding allowed republication limits.

"...It is not at all a stretch to say that this singular act, which made headlines around the world, dramatically changed the course of the art of dance during the next half-century.

"That’s a big statement. But when you consider how this one artist bolstered the classical ballet at the same time as he thrust himself into both popular entertainment dance as well as some of the outer boundaries of avant-garde 'movement,' it is not inaccurate at all. On top of all that, he longed – what am I saying, he lusted – after every artistic opportunity that came his way, as well as pushing for experiences he had to fight hard to do."

"...There were no serious repercussions because of the defection. He was already well estranged from his father, his mother had died when he was very young, and, as a bit of a loner, he had kept his friends at a safe distance. That’s why as soon as Misha managed to get his new life in New York into some sort of order, he began performing with extraordinary urgency and prowess at American Ballet Theatre. Like so many who remember those days at ABT, the athletic magic combined with his impeccable and elegant demeanour established new highs in the world of dance. He had, for example, a trademark tour en l’air in which he jumped so high as he crossed his legs at the high point that you had the distinct impression he was literally walking on air. For me, this was the physical reality T.S. Eliot evoked when he described 'the still point in the turning world.'"

"...And as his physical strengths gradually succumbed to the realities of aging, he was always moving restlessly along, looking for new opportunities. I mean, honest to God, just a few months ago I went down to Montreal to see him perform anonymously as the Yellow Clown in an extraordinary theatrical curiosity, Slava’s SnowShow. Performance after performance, no one in the Montreal venue had a clue that the world’s most celebrated living dancer was in their midst; that anonymity after a life so focused on centre stage gave him enormous satisfaction. He said he enjoyed feeling nervous on stage again!"

And: "I asked him once what his motivation was for taking on this role in that particular show [Sex and the City]. The answer was pure Baryshnikov: 'Finally,' he said, with the same twinkle in his eyes that enraptured more than just Ms. [Sarah Jessica] Parker, 'I wanted to try to be in something my children weren’t allowed to watch.'"

Finally: "Is this now the place for the obligatory 'fair disclosure'? It’s one I can make with huge pride and gratitude. I was a performing arts journalist (dance and second-string music reviewer) for this newspaper in 1974. In an escapade that now seems to me closer to a Feydeau farce, I was able surreptitiously to hand him a note with a phone number that put him in touch with his friends who were ready in New York to help him make his decision. That little act of intrigue won for me a dear, generous and loyal friend for all these subsequent 50 years."

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-fifty-years-after-his-defection-were-still-living-in-the-age-of/ 

Edited by volcanohunter
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I was on a summer program for high school juniors and seniors to earn college credit; it took place about an hour outside of NYC.  The program directors decided to take us on two cultural trips, one to the theater and one to Lincoln Center, and they booked group tickets in advance.  We saw Moon for the Misbegotten with Colleen Dewhurst and Jason Robards, and for Lincoln Center, the choice was a Mostly Mozart concert.

The date was July 27, 1974.  When I learned that Baryshnikov was making his American debut, I demanded to know why the program directors hadn't chosen ABT instead of Mostly Mozart.  Their response was, "Well, we didn't think the boys would like the ballet."  I have never been able to listen to Bach Brandenburg #5 happily since.

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15 minutes ago, Helene said:

I was on a summer program for high school juniors and seniors to earn college credit; it took place about an hour outside of NYC.  The program directors decided to take us on two cultural trips, one to the theater and one to Lincoln Center, and they booked group tickets in advance.  We saw Moon for the Misbegotten with Colleen Dewhurst and Jason Robards, and for Lincoln Center, the choice was a Mostly Mozart concert.

The date was July 27, 1974.  When I learned that Baryshnikov was making his American debut, I demanded to know why the program directors hadn't chosen ABT instead of Mostly Mozart.  Their response was, "Well, we didn't think the boys would like the ballet."  I have never been able to listen to Bach Brandenburg #5 happily since.

What a memory of a missed opportunity! 

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They'd bought the tickets before Baryshnikov's defection to Canada and long before anyone knew he'd guest with ABT that summer.  There were plenty of tickets to be had to either performance, and opted for Mostly Mozart.  

Some of the boys actually did care when the read the NYT review.

I'm not sure Giselle was the original programming.  For some reason, I remembered it as a mixed bill, but I could be completely wrong about that.

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5 hours ago, volcanohunter said:

I'm a little slow in posting, but this piece includes details about how Baryshnikov's defection intersected with Lorne Greene and Richard Nixon.

https://www.tvo.org/article/my-life-is-my-art-why-mikhail-baryshnikov-defected-in-toronto-half-a-century-ago

Thanks for this article.  It's much more detailed than most of the  articles published in the US when Baryshnikov first landed in our midst.

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