It’s A Kind of Fantastic Freak Show | Mikhail Baryshnikov

It’s A Kind of Fantastic Freak Show | Mikhail Baryshnikov

“The last few times I’ve been to LA, I’ve performed at the Broad Stage, and I love that area. It’s quiet, but  kind of ALIVE. Closer to the ocean it’s a Carnival. People are out doing their weights and yoga, running, bicycling, gymnastics – you name it – it’s kind of a FANTASTIC FREAK SHOW.”

It’s great… I fit right in.

You’re universally renowned as a dancer but now we see you in a different role on stage at The Broad. What inspired you to take up acting?
I’ve been acting since the 1980’s. My admiration for the theater along with my own pathological need to scare myself with new challenges is probably what drove me to try the earliest projects. It was television and film first, but now I’m really seduced by live theater.

Man in A Case is based on the stories of Chekhov. You’ve probably been offered many different roles – what attracted you to this particular piece?
Like every student growing up in the former Soviet Union, I studied those stories. Chekhov is sort of like Mark Twain in the US, or Dickens in the UK – everyone reads him. But the short stories are less known than the famous plays and this project was an opportunity to bring them to the stage. I thought they needed the vision of contemporary directors and that’s why I invited Annie B Parson and Paul Lazar to join the team.

Baryshnikov Baryshnikov2Can you tell us about the production? It is described as a fusion of music, film and dance.
Indeed it is, but dance is the smallest element. The company members are from Annie B and Paul’s group, Big Dance Theater, so it’s a versatile bunch. They are gifted actor/singer/dancers and musicians and the play uses all those talents.

You have described the play as being about solitary men. You don’t appear to be an introvert so how do you identify with the role?
There are two characters I play. They are both socially active, but they are solitary in their souls. In my mind the role doesn’t have to fit you like a glove – it’s the challenge of every actor to play something he or she isn’t, but I think all of us can relate to being in constant conversation with ourselves. It’s a sort psychological ping pong and I think we all fall into that category at some point in our lives.

In your persona as an actor, how does it feel to be on stage in a role which is primarily dialog as opposed to movement?
I don’t think I feel so different. The voice is just an added element.

Do you spend much time at your dance studio in New York? Is the theater a second career for you?
Performing is what I do. I don’t categorize things as one career or another, I just want to be professional and committed. But I do still exercise pretty much everyday especially in recent months because of Man in a Case and a new Robert Wilson piece The Old Woman with Willem Dafoe. It’s all physical theater so I have to be ready for anything.

How do you spend your leisure time, when not rehearsing or teaching?
I don’t teach, but I go to a lot of performances and get in a round of golf with friends whenever I can. But, OK, I confess, I recently binge watched House of Cards with my wife.

How does it make you feel to see a new generation of dancers at your school and on TV programs like So You Think You Can Dance?
First of all, our Center isn’t a school. The artists who come to the Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC) have been trained elsewhere. That said, I love watching any emerging talent, but I have to say, the one time I saw one of those TV dance shows, it was pretty brutal. I felt sorry for all the participants and maybe a little sad to see dance reduced to a sporting event. Dance isn’t a competition, and it’s rough to watch some judge rip someone apart publicly. I know hundreds of amazing dancers that would never win a competition – but I guess it’s just business and I shouldn’t take it so seriously.

What advice do you have for kids who are thinking of studying dancing or acting?
It has to be a personal decision. I would never tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do. It’s a tough life and they have to want it more than anything else.

Man In A Case is at The Broad Stage 24 April – 10 May

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