Famed dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov demonstrated at the Ringling International Arts Festival (RIAF) that a dance career is not just for the young. The 62-year-old may not be able to pull off 10-plus pirouettes or 6-foot leaps anymore, but the artistry of one of the greatest dancers of all time still remains and dazzles.
Baryshnikov performed with David Neumann in a series of sold-out performances of solos Wednesday, Oct. 13 through Friday, Oct. 15. The show was a short 60-minute compilation, but each minute of it will be savored for a lifetime.
In Alexei Ratmansky’s “Valse-Fantasie,” Baryshnikov’s port de bras is so fluid it is to be envied by every prima ballerina in the world. Every glissade and balancé is executed with such ease you would think that he was just “marking” the steps (as in practice). Such an innate talent is an extraordinary sight to behold.
Yes, this was one of those moments where you realize that you are in the company of giants — artistic giants who will never be rivaled.
The only thing topping Baryshnikov’s dancing talent is his desire to find and foster the future of his craft. He defected from Russia in the ’70s, because he wanted to dance with more modern companies and with new, groundbreaking choreographers. His collaboration with street dancer Neumann is one of these moments.
Neumann is the Ben Stiller of dance. His pieces, “Mourning Commute” and “Tough the Tough (redux)” mock everyday human life and challenges. Humorous, yet poignant, his choreography seems to speak to the music in a new language that needs to be learned. And it’s a language, we’re sure, that dancers of the future will learn.
Neumann’s style is fresh and fun. He includes the audience in his choreography as if they were other dancers on stage. His slow-motion sequences in “Mourning Commute,” in which he and Baryshnikov are dancing in long trench coats in front of a fan, were those which only dancers with extreme control can perform. We can’t wait to see what Neumann comes up with next.
The entire performance was a treat, but the icing on the cake was Benjamin Millepied’s “Years Later.” The piece was a duet: Films of a young Baryshnikov would start a sequence and the live Baryshnikov would follow. It was innovative and entertaining.
Most exceptional was when the clips of Baryshnikov as a 16-year-old student in Leningrad, Russia, took to the screen.
The live Baryshnikov was backlit with lights, projecting his shadow while he mimicked the poses of his 16-year-old self. At one point, you wonder what Baryshnikov thinks when he watches this footage and, almost immediately, he answers while he grabs his back in mock pain.
In the end, the 16-year-old presence and the 62-year-old presence are one and the same. An extraordinary sight to behold.