Gabrielle Barnett, on assignment with Anchorage Daily News,
conducted this interview with Mikhail Baryshnikov, prior to the premiere
of PASTForward, the White Oak tour. Excerpts from this phone interview
were published in the Anchorage Daily News, October 3, 2000.
Gabrielle Barnett: Why begin the PASTForward tour in Anchorage, so
far from the center of the dance world?
Mikhail Baryshnikov: What is the center
of the dance world really? New York City, Paris
need them. We need time to prepare a show without pressure. Anchorage
can offer us that a place and time to work. Its ideal.
Why are you taking such an artistic risk at this point
in your career?
Its not a risk, its just fun. Its whats
left in life, to work with interesting people. To walk across the street
is a risk. These works have become classics. They have been approved
by time, they are part of history. I want to introduce them to a new
generation, to a new audience. The show is not just for dance lovers.
We will show the socio-political perspective, the context in which this
What was your introduction to "post-modern dance"?
Was it when you performed in Twyla Tharps When Push Comes to
Shove in 1976, shortly after you came to the United States
No, Twyla is a solid modern choreographer, not postmodern. Her work
is very central, mainstream. Working with her did open up a new world,
but David Gordon was my introduction to the postmodern Judson choreographers.
I met Gordon in the early 80s. I saw the work he was doing at
Dance Theater Workshop with the Pick Up Company and Valda Setterfield.
I was interested in how he manipulated objects. His work was down to
earth and austere. He created material for American Ballet Theatre
Made in USA and we became friends. I discovered Lucinda
Childs and Trisha Brown in the 70s and 80s I started
to see their shows more and more. I found films of Rainers work
in the New York Public Library. I met Steve Paxton next. Deborah Hay
and Simone Forti came later.
How did you get Yvonne Rainer to choreograph again,
after working in film for decades?
I asked her does this program make sense to you? She said,
I have a dream list. Her idea of an evening. No one was
hostile, but no one was enthusiastic. Some people wanted to create new
work, not restage old material. I asked David Gordon to direct because
he is also involved in theater, he has a sharp directorial eye. Then
we needed Charles Atlas for the socio-political context; hes doing
a an introductory film. We are looking back, reexamining what was interesting
and controversial, what they did, what they wanted to say. The show
is about retracking, retracing.
Last June, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, you performed
material in Rainers After Many Summer Dies the Swan that
was originally danced by Valda Setterfield. Is there a story behind
No, theres no story. It was Yvonnes idea to have me
dance Valdas solo. I said yes, I didnt think about how it
would look, what people would think. In PASTForward, we will just do
excerpts from Swan. People had longer attention spans in the
60s. The works have been abridged to make it easy, more accessible
for the TV generation.
Will you stage any brand new pieces in PASTForward?
David Gordons For the Love of the Rehearsal is a new
piece. And Deborah Hays The Whizz.
Which pieces will involve community dancers?
Exit, by Deborah Hay is a community piece. And The Matter
by David Gordon.
Have you worked with community dancers before?
Yes, as extras. These will be wonderful pieces for people to participate
Can you talk about technique and postmodern dance?
Many people assume there is no technique when they dont see pointed
toes and turn-out.
Almost all these choreographers had studied with Cunningham. They
took that Cunningham line and put it on a pedestrian level. Extension
is not at all important. It doesnt matter how high you lift your
leg. The technique is about transparency, simplicity, making an earnest
attempt. That is the performers job. The rest is in the hands
of the choreographer. Its a different technique, with different
values in performance.
What about choreography? How are postmodern dances
It varies with the choreographer. Hay has a strong sense of structure
which she brings to her choreographic material. Lucinda Childs
work is highly structured, every beat is precise, every movement set,
we discovered when we reconstructed Carnation. On the other hand,
Steve Paxtons Satisfyin Lover allows the performer
his own timing within a structure. It presents the performer with the
creative dilemma, within a structure, so the performer participates
in a simple way in the creative process.
Will you be dancing in PASTForward?
Yes, I will perform Homemade. And Flat, a Steve Paxton
solo. And I will do a duet with Deborah Hay.
Deborah Hay is going to dance as well as choreograph
and teach workshops?
Yes, shes still dancing. All the choreographers are in their
sixties now, and theyre all active, teaching, dancing. None have
retired. Its amazing how much influence theyve had.
What challenges did you encounter when you shifted
to learning postmodern dance after a lifetime of ballet training?
The challenge is to find the essential elements of dance. What is
interesting? What is it about? This is minimalism. We are re-living
it with the choreographers.
Many people dont know how to watch minimalist
dance with no plot, no emotional mood, no metaphor. What do you
Just sit and open your eyes and open your heart. Its dance
theater. If your only dance experience is the Nutcracker, it
will be a shock; hopefully shocking in a good way. You have to participate
as an audience member. You have to ask, "what do they want to say?
What boundaries are they stretching? What are their politics, their
likes and dislikes?" Its conceptual dance theater, simple
theater. But if you want to see girls en pointe and men doing
double tours en lair stay at home. Its not Sleeping
Beauty or Cats. These are not Andrew Lloyd Webbers
kind of cool cats.
How did you plan the production? Did all the Judson
choreographers get together for a grand reunion?
No, there was no big reunion. But we did get together in Princeton,
with Jennifer Tipton, the lighting designer. We were all there, except
Lucinda, she was in Europe. We got together for a few dinners and a
few debates. It was an enjoyable process.
Rudolph Nureyev comes to mind as another ballet star
who reconstructed dances of the historical avant-garde later in his
career. Was his work an influence on you?
No, Nureyev was just interested in classical material. I started
much earlier, working with modern choreographers.
What process did you use to reconstruct dances for
It was up to the choreographer. Some people wanted to preserve the
piece as it was originally staged. Others wanted to update the work
Homemade was updated in a workshop. Paxtons pieces
are kept the same. Charles Atlas will do a documentary about making
PASTForward. Theres not much video material from those days; we
will try to document it, for history.
Our time is almost up is there anything you
want to add about PASTForward?
I hope people will come and enjoy the show. Its fun. Its multi-media.
Theres text and film as well as dance. Youll recognize stuff
from the 60s.
Please join our forum
to discuss this
interview and PASTForward.