September 9th, 2007 | by RICHARD SPEER News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

TBA DIARY: All about Baryshnikov

     
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mikhail_baryshnikov_99Saturday, September 9, 2007: Donna Uchizono Company

It's super-muggy in the Newmark Theater at PCPA, but then, it's a packed house, and I'm in the third balcony. Heat rises. You do the math. TBA guest artistic director Mark Russell walks onstage, tells everyone to turn off their cellphones. “Now for the PBS part of the evening...” he says, then asks people to become PICA members.

Uchizono's State of Heads starts minimalistically, with a stark black-and-white set, dancer Levi Gonzalez standing completely still in the middle of the stage. Eerie ambient sounds by composer James Lo begin as he very slowly begins to move. Carla Rudiger and Rebecca Serrell join him. Their movements are jerky, bird-like. They look up at different quadrants of the audience, their movements synchronized, as if they are plants straining toward the sun. Periodically the lighting changes. More odd sounds come from the speakers: a vacuum cleaner, Windex being sprayed onto windows, the sounds of scrubbing and squeaking. The dancers react to these sounds, going this way and that, as if they are being manipulated by whoever is doing the cleaning. Perhaps they are dust mites on a coffee table. When the sounds stop, they shimmy out of their white smocks, to reveal cocktail party attire beneath.

They dance oddly, presenting their bodies to one another. Perhaps, when left alone, dust mites have mating rituals analagous to our own. The dance as a whole seems to deal with the interaction of individuals (be they people or mites) with one another and with the larger forces that control their worlds: the interaction of free will and predestination, initiation and passivity, subject and object, of doing and being done to.

The lights go down, the audience applauds and adjourns for a 20-minute intermission. Turns out the person seated next to me is Portland Art Museum curator Jennifer Gately. In the lobby I run into Randy Gragg and KBOO “Art Focus” host Julie Bernard. At the time, Julie can't remember my name, and I can't remember hers, even though I have been on her show twice. Of course, she's really, really old, so she has an excuse.

The second performance is Leap to Tall, and it's why the house is packed. The curtain comes up, jaunty music by Michael Floyd and Iva Bittová sets a quirky mood, Jodi Melnick and Hristoula Harakas appear, and then a spotlight gradually lights up the elegant, well-preserved figure of Mikhail Baryshnikov. In the audience you can feel the Starstruck Moment, an electricity that says: “I saw you on Sex in the City, I heard you had a child with Jessica Lange, I heard you were the world's preeminent ballet dancer, damn you look fine to be 59 years old!”

His movements are incredibly precise, fluid, elegant. You find yourself wondering what he must've been like in his prime if he's this good now. The women interact with one another and with him; they repeatedly lift him into graceful jumps. They seem to be his support system, his enablers. The scenario reads like a love triangle. You wonder how much of this choreography is biographical. This is the beauty and quandary of choreography this abstract: Your mind creates narratives to make sense of the movement.

Suddenly the women depart, the music stops and ambient noise begins, the lighting turns stark and scary, and Baryshnikov gazes up at a light offstage. Impending death? He turns away from the light and dances as orchestral music plays and he dances the way we all wanted him to dance tonight: not in choppy modern fashion but in leaps and pirouettes, and the moment is sweet, rich, sad, and suddenly you feel very, very lucky to be sitting here watching Mikhail Baryshnikov dance in the year 2007 in Portland, Oregon.

The women dancer come back, and he halts his solo, becoming occupied with them, his movements becoming more choppy and prosaic. At the end of the piece, the dancers freeze and the footlights shine brightly into the audience, as if to say, “Now it's your turn.” What have we just witnessed? The narrative of a performer's life? A brief stunt upon the stage, a poignant moment of glory sandwiched between mundanity, relationship demands, and the threat of imminent death?

Rousing applause greet the dancers during curtain call. Donna Uchizono joins them, wearing a stunning red dress. Most of the audience is in a standing ovation now, myself included. It is affecting to see one of the world's great performers dance only a day after another of the world's great performers, Luciano Pavarotti, was buried half a world away. A great dancer, a great singer, any of us are incredibly fortunate to see a blazing, perfect moment in time, owned by an interpretive master. To see dance at this caliber makes you want never to see dance at any caliber less.

Afterwards, Baryshnikov is sitting downstairs with Mark Russell at Art Bar, autographing programs. I say hi to Russell as Baryshnikov chats with his fans, and ask if I can photograph him and Baryshnikov and post the picture to this blog. Without asking Baryshnikov, he declines on the dancer's behalf.

Photo of young Baryshnikov courtesy of http://bestof.provocateuse.com/.
 
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