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Monday, August 6, 2012

Always In Paris

In Paris, a play based on the novella by Ivan Brunin and written/directed by Dmitry Krymov, was one of the most curious performances/art installations I have seen in years. And, yes Mikhail Baryshnikov playing the lead may have had a little to do with it. I got to catch a performance last week at the Lynch Theatre at Jay College as a part of the Lincoln Center Festival, in New York, NY.

The story focuses on two Russian immigrants living in Paris in the 1930s.  He, the older, retired White Russian general, and she, the younger beauty and waitress.  Both without their spouses: his left him for someone else and hers is back in Yugoslavia. His solitude leads him to a restaurant where she works, and he immediately comes under her spell, unable to even put his chair down each time he sees her.  The couple begins a romance somewhere in the duration of the 80 minutes of the play, and it ends sadly as the audience learns he dies on the metro, as she is left dangling upside down in the air in despair.

Spoken in both Russian and French, the English titles are cleverly spun as backdrop and video.  The story is told not only through acting, but also song (the small cast acts as various characters, a Greek chorus of sorts, with beautifully haunting music sometimes in an ironic fashion). And of course the dance.  Or movement.  Baryshnikov could move his pinky finger and transfix any audience, or for sure this audience, and his every attention to subtle detail is strikingly beautiful and transcendent.  Russian-born Alexei Ratmanksy, Artist in Residence for American Ballet Theater, choreographed the dance portion of the evening - Baryshnikov's final dance at the end before he dies is the strongest and longest.

And it isn't just Baryshnikov stealing the show.  Besides the sometimes funny chorus, Russian actress Anna Sinyakina holds her own beside one of the greatest artists to live.  Her voice pulls you in, her movements slow, deliberate and delicate.  Her love, her pain, her loneliness are palpable throughout the story.

And then there were the set and the costumes.  Maria Tregubova designed both, simple and yet impressive.  Using overlarge photographs of Paris, Russia, the couple, family portraits, etc, the small stage was like entering a dream of memories.  The costumes were smart and inventive: her dress could change from slip to gown to handbag to hat.  His green military coat reminded me of Ulyanna Sergeenko's couture show - and I'm truly thinking this could be THE accessory of the season.

with Kay Fernandez, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Kory Blum, Olivia Gordnier, and Stacey Bailey
Post-performance my friends and I were invited to a dinner with Baryshnikov and cast at the Russian Samovar restaurant located in the Theater District.  Founded in part by Baryshnikov, the Russian Samovar ecompasses the heart of old Russia, including homemade vodkas and traditional Russian fare.  Piano music in the background, my girlfriends and I awaited to meet the genius artist and wish him congratulations.
A Studio at Baryshnikov Arts Center
From my days of studying as a baby ballerina, to working for Merce Cunningham and watching Baryshnikov's collaborations with him, to visiting the beautiful and cutting edge facilities of the Baryshnikov Arts Center, to witnessing this intriguing avant garde new work, I know this man embodies art at its best.  Not afraid of pushing the envelope or making waves, he is able to bring beauty and brains together in a truly moving and interesting way.