Famous dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov dreams of a “victorious year” for Ukraine

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Famous dancer Mikhaïl Barychnikov dreams of a “victorious year”for Ukraine

Mikhail Baryshnikov is one of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century and he hates interviews. In rehearsal for the revival of the stage adaptation by François Girard of the novel The Hunting Gun, he agreed to speak to us at the premises of his foundation located in New York, the Baryshnikov Arts Center .

Mikhail Barychnikov gave an interview to Radio-Canada.

Friday, February 24, 2023. A year ago today, Russia attacked Ukraine. More than 7,000 miles to the west, New York is chilly with gusty winds. Between two skyscrapers, there is a little hope, thanks to a few rays of sunshine.

In one of the Baryshnikov Arts Center's rehearsal rooms, made of gray concrete, director François Girard receives a text message on his phone. A friend reminds him of the Moscow premiere of his adaptation of the opera Lohengrin, at the Bolshoi Theater on February 24, 2022.

By his side , legendary dancer Mikhail Barychnikov wields a gun slowly, very slowly. The former ballet star of St. Petersburg's Kirov Theater looks engrossed. Is it because of these moves to learn or because he is horrified by this war between Russia and Ukraine?

Thanks to his vertiginous and pure style, Mikhaïl Barychnikov has danced on the greatest stages of the world. He's been through ups and downs, but he never thought that at 75 he would be having the worst year of his life.

I' x27;had the most horrifying year of my life, I would say. Even though I lost my mother when she was 40 [she committed suicide], my brother and my father, who was a military officer in the occupied Latvian army. I experienced both sides of the coin, he says.

“I was a son of the occupation [in Latvia] and I know how people react to an army that is not welcome. Hundreds of thousands of people enter through the border of Ukraine. I hope this year will be a victorious year for Ukrainians.

— Mikhail Baryshnikov

Born in 1948 in Riga, when Latvia was under Soviet occupation, Mikhail Baryshnikov moved to Russia at the age of 16 to learn ballet at the dance school of master Alexander Pushkin in Leningrad (now Saint-Petersburg).

The mythical choreographer taught him rigor. The young prodigy also learns to fight to get on stage. After the success of his pas de deux in Le corsaire, he finally obtained a role in the ballet Giselle. He dreams of freedom.

You have to be brave and not be afraid of failure, because there are no guarantees. You have to open your heart, you have to be prepared, you have to study, you have to observe others and follow them to your favorite artists. Whether a composer, a painter, a poet or a choreographer. All this to achieve what you need to do with your life, he says during our conversation.

Although he was at the top of his game, his life gradually crumbled at the end of the 1960s. After the defection to the West in 1961 of the dancer Rudolf Nureyev, his friend, the ballerina Natalia Makarova, also fled the Soviet Union in 1970. The same year, her mentor Alexander Pushkin succumbed to cardiac arrest at the age of 62.

Mikhail Baryshnikov on stage (Archive image)

Performing in Canada on June 29, 1974, Mikhail Baryshnikov hastily left the O'Keefe Center in Toronto (today' Meridian Hall today) by automobile to seek political asylum. The dancer, then 26, said in a statement that it was an artistic choice and not a political choice.

Today, he keeps precious memories of the country that hosted him.

“Canada is my home. Canada gave me the opportunity, for the first time, to breathe freely. I have very good friends there who I met almost 50 years ago. Some are dancers, others are writers or lawyers. When I visit Canada, I feel comfortable, it's an amazing feeling.

— Mikhail Baryshnikov

Perhaps it is this emotional bond with Canada that partly nourishes this visible friendship between the artist, now an American citizen, and Quebecer François Girard, during rehearsals for Le fusil de chasseur. >.

The director fondly calls the dancer-turned-choreographer Misha. The lighting designer I've worked with in the theater for 20-25 years, David Finn, toured with Baryshnikov for a long time. They are personal friends. “Misha” was looking for a post-pandemic project. So we came up with the idea, I met "Misha" and he decided to jump in the boat, François Girard tells us in an interview.

The dancer-choreographer, who has also been an actor in films like The Turning Point< /em> (The Turn of the Night, in 1977) and White Nights (Night Sun, in 1985), is packed with the project.

“Francois made me an offer I couldn't refuse. Playing a character without saying a single word is a challenge, not just for an actor, but for a dancer too. It is an extraordinary work of literature. It's an excellent novel. »

— Mikhaïl Barychnikov

Mikhail Baryshnikov (File image)

While he wielded the rifle in rehearsal for the adaptation of a novel by the Japanese writer Yasushi Inoue (1907-1991), Mikhail Baryshnikov remained attached to Russian culture and to his great works that have marked history.

In March 2022, he asked the West not to paint Russia with a brush à la Vladimir Putin (The Globe and Mail, March 19, 2022).

Almost a year later, he's taking it up a notch.

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