Photo: Vladimir Bliokh, Don Quixote, Moscow, 1968. I posted a video on YouTube with analysis of two legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov solos. First is the Basil Act II “drunk” solo from his American Ballet Theatre Don Quixote production from 1983 when he was 35 old. A great solo that shows off his great technique and comedic touches. Focus on the first step, which is a variant of a cabriole devant. I spent a lot of time analyzing that spectacular step with helpful guidance from dancer Jeremy Naismith. Also thrilling are two other segments: a double assemblé to a flowing arabesque and a double tour to arabesque turns.
Second is his Giselle Act II Albrecht solo from 1977, taped live at the Metropolitan Opera House. This is one of the finest examples of this solo that I have seen. Baryshnikov’s great technique and dramatic timing are on full display. This solo was stellar then and has remained a distinguished example of this work into the early 2000s. ABT provided one of the finest performances of this classic tragedy that I have seen, with fellow Soviet Union defector Natalia Makarova as Giselle. Another tragedy is that this outstanding work is only available on VHS tape. Can the copyright holder please make this important performance available in digital format rather than forcing ballet fans to watch the work on substandard VHS digital conversions?
Working on the project brought back many memories. As a dancer at Ballet Midwest, a non-professional company in Kansas in the early 1980s, I never had the privilege of seeing Baryshnikov live. Instead, I relied on PBS performances on Betamax tapes my ballet teacher recorded. I watched the videos for hours, hoping that some of his brilliance would rub off. Back at the studio, I tried out his moves; this proved to be a fruitless endeavor, but I had fun trying. This experience gave me a greater appreciation of the difficulty of the steps and the art form generally.
Back then, I thought Baryshnikov was the greatest. Since my dancing days, I’ve seen hundreds of ballets from the world’s greatest dancers. Before starting a previous series of Baryshnikov YouTube videos, I wondered if his work would stand the test of time-how his dancing compares to current dancers. After watching hundreds of hours of Baryshnikov for this and the previous project, there is no question he would be a superstar today as he was in his day. His technique (pointed feet, turnout, stretched line, upper body carriage) was brilliant, with each movement having a purpose. His superb technique, combined with superior athleticism make him the greatest ever. Most star dancers of the 1960s and 1970s have seen their level of dancing surpassed by current dancers; not so with Baryshnikov. After all of these years, Baryshnikov is still the man.
Balletfocus.com Next Steps
Original content is difficult to come by given that all New York City ballet performances have been canceled for the year. There are just a limited number of angles on Arts in the COVID ERA, as I have covered in April, May, and June. I will continue to work on videos on my favorite dancers and will also feature regular articles on ballet steps from my YouTube ballet video dictionary. I also have a dancer profile of Herman Cornejo that covers many aspects of his great dancing. Any ideas on ballet videos would be appreciated.