It’s difficult to put into words the incredible experience of seeing a childhood hero/idol/visionary performing less than 20 yards from you. It’s part surreal, part dream come true but mostly unbelievable. Last Wednesday I had the immense pleasure to see my lifelong hero Mikhail Baryshnikov in the production “In Paris” at the Roda Theater in Berkeley. I’d always known that Baryshnikov has a special, personal relationship with the city of Berkeley (I’d always secretly hoped that I’d run into him at Chez Pannise when I was in school). So when I heard that he was helping to bring the Dmitry Krymov directed and adapted production to Berkeley – it took me all of eight minutes to already have tickets in hand.
Before I start, I really do want to reiterate what a huge fan I am of Baryshnikov. Whenever you mention his name, most people go, “WHO?!” and then when you say that he was Carrie’s Russian Boyfriend on the last season of SATC, then all of a sudden everyone has an opinion . Such a shame. When I was 2-4 years old I CONSTANTLY watched his ballet’s on VHS. I have no doubt that watching him and Gelsey Kirkland in the Balanchine’s Nutcracker is what inspired me to study dance for 12 years. One of my favorite memories from my childhood is being 4-years-old and with my mom in the pediatrician’s office. All the other kids were busy on the floor playing with Lego’s or Lincoln Logs or reading books about some dog named Spot running all over the place. I, on the other hand, was sitting quietly with my mom. She later told me that I was starting to worry her because I wasn’t interacting with any of the other kids or building anything, but not wanting to be an overbearing mother who hovers, so she continued to silently read her PEOPLE magazine beside me. Then out of nowhere, I point my finger and cry out “Look Mom! Its Mikhail Baryshnikov!” after spotting his picture in Star Tracks. All the other mothers in the room turned in stunned silence and gaped at me unwilling to believe that a 4-year-old not only knew who Baryshnikov was but could also pronounce his Russian name! Then when I was 16, my interest in him and his impressive career had a large resurgence with his White Oak Dance Project. So, the idea of finally being in the same room with such a huge artistic inspiration in my life was…actually pretty intimidating. Just ask my friend Ali who went with me to the show. I was hardcore blushing for the first 10 minutes and had a face-splitting grin plastered to my face for the rest of it.
But after all the build-up I am so happy to say that B did not disappoint! He was at once graceful, broken, strong and haunted. “In Paris” follows the brief but cathartic romance between two Russian expats in 1930’s Paris looking for some sort of solace from their country, from their past and from their lonely future. The production spoken entirely in French and Russian was very artfully executed. My favorite scene included a sequence where Baryshnikov’s character Nikolai Platonovitch dances through a Spanish Bullfighting scene. In reality the scene shows his character dodging and fighting his imminent death. B’s co-star in the production, Anna Sinyakina was also incredibly breathtaking – at the curtain call I found myself completely in awe of her after she was suspended, upside down in the air for about 5 whole minutes without moving even an inch. THAT’S TALENT!
I highly suggest that you see this breathtaking play and its legendary cast before the whole production moves to New York.