My YouTube video Mikhail Baryshnikov Legendary Solos just hit one million views after I posted it in September. The Baryshnikov video, along with others on Herman Cornejo, Ivan Vasiliev, Leonid Sarafanov have a common theme of technical commentary on solos from live performances.
The idea for these videos came from music channels I frequent on YouTube such as Rick Beato and Polyphonic. These channels provide technical commentary on music. I don’t know anything about music, but like many people grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan. Not knowing the difference between an “A” note and an “F” note, I knew that these were exceptional songs but couldn’t explain why. “It just sounds great” would be my only response. These channels dig deep into the unique aspects and innovation of these artists, delving into explanations on why Freddie Mercury had a great voice and why Carry on My Wayward Son from Kansas is a great song. I find technical videos on music interesting, so why not in-depth videos on ballet? I know something about dance from my training at a non-professional ballet company many years ago, doing steps commonly seen on stage. These videos are my effort to break down the solos with commentary.
The video analyzes his 1983 Don Quixote “Cups” solo and his 1977 Act II Albrecht Giselle solo. After a slow start, it picked up steam in October with a lot of interest and comments. It must have hit the sweet spot in YouTube’s algorithm, which recommends videos (interesting that 84% of the viewers are female according to YouTube analytics).
The video has over 800 comments, with some pointing out shortcomings in my work. From one comment, I misidentified a double cabriole in Baryshnikov’s Giselle solo. It should have been an ailes de pigeon (pigeon’s wings) which is like a cabriole with an entrechat six. I had never heard of that term before. Learn something every day. On a double tour diagonal, I said that switching feet on a double tour is a “tricky maneuver”. It is in fact the standard way of doing a double tour. I just had difficulty switching feet when I was a dancer, preferring to land in the same position as on takeoff. The lesson is that nobody cares about my dancing tendencies 30 years ago. In Baryshnikov’s Don Quixote solo, he flirts with Cynthia Harvey as Kitri. I misidentified her and called her “a village woman.” Apologies to Ms. Harvey.
Many had fond memories of Baryshnikov, seeing him at theaters around the world:
- I was lucky to see Baryshnikov’s first performance in Kirov Opera house in St. Petersburg immediately after his graduation from the famous ballet school. He reached instant fame with ballet connoisseurs, so incredible his performances were, the whole city was abuzz. But he had a very stiff competition with Nureyev-another incredible dancer. There was a lot of drama in their striving for the best dancer position.
- I saw him perform in Chicago once; and you are correct-he definitely defied gravity. Plus, he has probably the strongest “stage presence” I have ever seen; the whole audience literally leaned forward in unison when he stepped on stage. Amazing performance.
- I grew up in Kentucky – not a hotbed of ballet, but the Louisville Ballet enticed Baryshnikov to come as a guest dancer. It was the first time I understood what the phrase ‘takes your breath away’ really means. I literally could not breath. He was magnificent! I’ll forever be grateful that he agreed to come to Louisville, otherwise there are so many other people like me who would never have experienced his brilliance in person!
- I saw Baryshnikov perform in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the late seventies. At the end of the performance, while taking his bows, someone walked onstage and gave him a big red plastic Razorback hat (University of Arkansas mascot). Trying to be a good sport, he donned it to much applause. Then he took it off and gave the audience a quizzical look.
- My friends had Andy Gibb posters. I had Baryshnikov posters everywhere. Still adore him. 🤣🤣❤️
The YouTube algorithm that recommends videos distributed it to many people with interests outside of ballet. Like me watching sumo wrestling highlights late at night, some wondered why they were watching the video. It is gratifying to hear from non-ballet fans, and I hope that I introduced some to the art form:
- Well dang..I’ve never seen this guy dance before. Always heard the name, but I was never interested in ballet. He’s good! Why I am watching this?? Well at least I enjoyed it.
- Not sure why this was recommended to me but hey I’ll take it. I’ve never even seen ballet in my life or ever even searched for it on YouTube. I don’t know how I even got to this video but my jaw dropped when i saw that guy stay in the air spinning, it was like magic? What the… How did he stay in the air so long spinning and land so well? This is insane if I was there I would be so gobsmacked I would never stop clapping thats crazy good wtf
- Well I enjoyed the performance and the analysis so much! Thank you from a non-ballet person. These performances were absolutely beautiful and hides the great athleticism needed to pull them off flawlessly. Thank you for breaking them down for a “lay person”. And thanks for allowing me to watch the full performance before your commentary.
- OK, so I like ballet.
- It´s 2 am, I´m watching ballet commentary, I know nothing about ballet.
The comments in Russian were particularly interesting and very mixed on Baryshnikov according to Russian language translations from Google and help from a Russian colleague. Some expressed great pride in Russian ballet and the Vaganova Academy that trained young Baryshnikov. Russians have much to be proud of with the great dancers the country has produced: 1) “Misha Baryshnikov-Russian, Soviet ballet school !!! “👏😀 2) “Ours teach, and Americans use💯” 3) “This is Russian Ballet School, that is all!!!” 4) “It is our legendary Russian ballet school, especially the Vaganova Leningrad school.” Others were complementary as the English comments: “No dancer in the world in classical ballet can compare with the dance skills of Nureyev and Baryshnikov.” Others expressed a preference for Alexander Godunov, another Soviet defector from the 1970s: “Although in the competition between Baryshnikov and Godunov in America, the real prince has always been Godunov…” and “his main rival Godunov was more interesting …”
The dark side is that, after nearly 50 years, some Russians have not gotten over his 1974 defection with the word traitor used a few times. Other comments not included below were insults, with one using Russian four-letter words. Emotions are raw for some after all of these years. A sample: 1) “Great dancer. Bravo. And all the same I do not like traitors.” 2) “Baryshnikov is a traitor to the country of the Soviets, a traitor to the Motherland.” 3) There is something pathetic about Russian immigrants …” There are other comments, but you get the idea.
Look out for more videos. I am working on another Baryshnikov video on his dancing in the 1977 movie The Turning Point which should be out sometime in April. Not much going on in the ballet world with theater shutdowns, so working on videos occupies my time. Hopefully, performances will open up in the fall with the New York City Ballet season. These videos provide some content for ballet fans in the absence of live productions.