One of Mikhail Baryshnikov’s hallmarks is an intense curiosity. Widely considered the greatest dancer of his generation, he trained in ballet in the former Soviet Union before defecting to Canada in 1974. Since then, he’s been artistic director of American Ballet Theatre; performed in theater, TV, and film; and founded the Baryshnikov Arts Center, a multipurpose organization in New York City that showcases performing artists from all disciplines.
December 5 through 22, Baryshnikov comes to Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre with Man in a Case, an experimental work adapted by Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar from Anton Chekhov’s writing. The show incorporates theater, movement, music, video, and other elements to tell two of Chekhov’s short stories—the first about a teacher crippled by conventionality in turn-of-the-century Russia, the second about a man who falls in love with a married woman.
“They’re very quirky and very different from Chekhov’s plays,” Baryshnikov says. “With this conservative person who’s against any kind of progressive thinking, there are parallels to what’s happening now in this country. Because that story was a bit short and about a tragic and unresolved love affair, they suggested I bring in the other story about love.”
Of all his acting roles—including on the final season of Sex and the City—avant-garde theater seems to interest him most. When he first arrived in New York with only rudimentary English, he found he appreciated experimental productions more than Shakespeare or Eugene O’Neill: “I could have gone to see Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet, but it didn’t make much sense to me. Avant-garde theater was so arresting that I stayed, even though half or three-quarters of what was said passed me by.”
Baryshnikov, 65, continues to dance, which he says is easier now than it was five years ago because he’s “in better shape and a little lighter and a bit smarter about it.” He also spends much of his time working on behalf of his arts center. “In Europe,” he says, “government spends so much on art and art education, and there’s incredible theater in Poland, Bulgaria, Russia, and Scandinavia. Here we are much more conservative. The people who wrote the Constitution never thought about art. How to protect your freedom is one thing, but how to educate your children is another.”
He has no plan to stop performing anytime soon: “Where I am right now—it is scary at times, but that’s the way I like it, I guess. I scare myself, and then I try and overcome it.”
Tickets ($45 to $105) are available at shakespearetheatre.org.
This article appears in the December 2013 issue of Washingtonian.
Maurice Hines Is Tappin’ Thru Life, at Arena Stage November 15 through December 29, stars the dancer/choreographer of the title along with Washington’s Manzari Brothers—John, 21, and Leo, 18—who shared the stage with Hines in Arena’s 2010 production of Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies. Hines—whose late brother, Gregory, was a dancer and actor of equal renown—talks about the new show:
“I was reading an article about tap, and it didn’t even mention my brother. I thought, how soon they forget—because Gregory was tap to me, and I couldn’t let him be ignored. I decided I’d do a show to celebrate him; then it evolved into a show about my family.
“I first saw the Manzari brothers when I was getting ready to do Sophisticated Ladies. I was teaching at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and we were doing this leap and I saw all this hair pop up at the back. Then I saw a boy clutching his ankle, and that was Leo. I said, ‘Are you okay?’ and this voice from behind him says, ‘My brother will be all right,’ and that was John. They had some good dances, so I asked if they could tap. John said, ‘Yeah, we can tap,’ with all this attitude. I said, ‘Okay, you come to the Lincoln Theatre and I’ll let you know if you can tap.’ Of course, they were spectacular.
“In the show, I tell about the first time Gregory and I worked in Vegas in 1955 and how our mother hadn’t told us about segregation. We flew over the Strip and thought we were heading there, but my mother said, ‘The hotel you’re going to is in the other direction.’ The hotel was wonderful, but we wanted to go to the Strip and couldn’t understand why we weren’t allowed. I tell about meeting Tallulah Bankhead and Pearl Bailey—a great African-American singer—and how Tallulah wanted Pearl to go to the pool at the Sands with her, but they said she wasn’t allowed in the water. Tallulah said, ‘Then I’m not doing the show tonight.’ So everyone got out and they let Pearl get in the water, and then they drained it.
“I used to sing ‘Too Marvelous for Words’ to the audience, but now I sing it to my mother. I want the audience to know that it was this woman who came from nothing—who wasn’t in show business—who had this vision of our talent taking us all over the world. She always said the audience is the main thing. Without them, you may as well be in a rehearsal studio, so you owe them.”
Maurice Hines Is Tappin’ Thru Life. November 15 through December 29 at Arena Stage. Tickets ($50 and up) are available online.
This article appears in the November 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
There are a wealth of contradictions underpinning the National Gallery’s extravagant new show, “Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: When Art Danced With Music.” The show explores the incomparable legacy of Serge Diaghilev, a pioneer of the avant-garde and a man who shaped the way ballet would evolve throughout the 20th century but who also freely described himself as one “with a complete absence of talent.” This is a show focused on Diaghilev, but there is very little of him in it, given that he didn’t dance or sketch costumes or choreograph ballets or compose music. A sense of him emerges only fleetingly, as a mustache-twirling impresario curating art in a thoroughly fascinating way.
Another contradiction: Despite the nomenclature, the Ballets Russes never performed in Russia. Before 1909, when the troupe was formed, Diaghilev (who was independently wealthy) had worked as an art critic and curator and had produced concerts and operas in St. Petersburg and in Paris, where the first Ballets Russes production was staged. His choreographer was Michel Fokine; his principal dancers included Vasily Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova. For the next 20 years, the company traveled around the world, presenting more than half of its productions in Britain and collaborating with talents as diverse as Igor Stravinsky and Coco Chanel. It is impossible to imagine modern dance being the same without it.
“Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes” is a reimagining of an exhibition that ran at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum in 2010, and while the Washington exhibition has more of a visual art bent to it than the British show, it’s still an unexpectedly broad undertaking for the National Gallery. The institution literally raised its roof in order to display two key items: a backdrop painted by Natalia Goncharova for a 1926 production of The Firebird, and a curtain designed by Picasso in 1924 for The Blue Train, both of which are more than 30 feet tall. Although the two items are imposing, visually, they feel curiously flat taken out of context. Like cubism, the show deconstructs ballet down to its composite parts and presents them as individual masterpieces, when by their very nature they were designed to play as part of an ensemble.
The same goes for the costumes, which seem to make up the majority of items on display. Most are extraordinary, both in their construction and their heritage, but to see them displayed on mannequins is only a small part of the story. The exhibition includes video footage of modern reconstructions of Ballets Russes performances featuring companies such as the Joffrey Ballet and the New York City Ballet, but the two-dimensional projections don’t quite evoke the sense of ferocious energy and sweat that live dance does. The heaviness and intensity of the early Ballets Russes costumes in particular provoke a hundred practical questions about their nature in performance that remain unanswered. As works of art, the costumes pale in comparison to their elegantly rendered designs, including the gorgeous drawings and watercolors by Alexandre Benois and Léon Bakst.
The Kennedy Center this morning announced its lineup for 2013-14—Michael Kaiser’s last season as president—and among big news is that the center breaks away from classical music for a bit to host multi-platinum rapper Nas, the son of jazz musician Olu Dara. Nas is know for the 2002 single “One Mic,” which is the name of the weeklong festival at which he’ll perform. “One Mic: Hip-Hop Culture Worldwide” will celebrate “emceeing, deejaying, B-boying, and graffiti writing,” through exhibitions and performances, Kaiser said this morning. Somali artist K’Naan, who sang the promotional anthem of the 2010 World Cup, “Wavin’ Flag,” will also make an appearance.
Speaking of celebrity appearances: Under the leadership of artistic adviser Jason Moran, more than 70 jazz performances will pop up at the KenCen this year by the likes of NEA Jazz Masters Ramsey Lewis and Cecil Taylor. The legacy of trumpeteer Arturo Sandoval is celebrated with a one-time concert, “50 Years: The Life, Passion, and Music of Arturo Sandoval,” at which actors Bill Cosby and Andy Garcia will also perform.
The debut International Theater Festival, taking place in 2014, will feature the theatrical works of companies from all over the world. Titles include The Green Snake by the National Theater of China, The Petrol Station by Kuwait’s Sulayman Al-Bassam Theatre, Incendios by Mexico’s Tapioca Inn, and a rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by England’s Bristol Old Vic and the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa. The festival will represent ten total countries and will also host complementary readings and forums.
Savion Glover’s résumé includes a Broadway debut at age ten, a Tony nomination at 15 (he won seven years later), four years on Sesame Street, and a PBS special at the White House in which President Clinton introduced him as “the greatest tap dancer of all time.” But in Glover’s current show, the artist, educator, and choreographer pays homage to the men he sees as pioneers. SoLe Sanctuary—January 20 at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts—honors dancers such as Sammy Davis Jr., Jimmy Slyde, and Gregory Hines. “It acknowledges my teachers and mentors,” says Glover, “people who’ve been heavily influential on not only my career but also my love for dance and expression.”
Born and raised in Newark, Glover, 39, started dancing at age seven, but his interest was really sparked when he discovered tap: “It wasn’t until I was able to connect with these men and learn from them that I began to understand dance to be something more.” At ten, he took over the title role in Broadway’s The Tap Dance Kid. Glover’s style emphasizes tap’s African-American roots, focusing on foot movement and rhythm. The New York Times called SoLe Sanctuary “barebones and pure, full of the kind of rhythmic innovation that trips down one path, splinters off in different directions, and then sweeps back home.”
Glover hopes the show inspires audiences to think of tap beyond entertainment: “When we speak about Gregory and Jimmy, they were about much more than just doing a combination—they told stories,” he says. “We’re storytellers, and we allow people to feel music through the dance.”
Savion Glover. January 20 at George Mason University. Tickets ($23 to $46) available online.
This article appears in the January 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
For Dana Tai Soon Burgess, dance is a way to bring people together.
“All of humanity shares similar stories, whether it’s about love, loss, jealousy, or trying to find a sense of home,” the choreographer, 44, says. Over the past 15 years in his role as a cultural envoy to the State Department, Burgess, with his company, has traveled to countries including Egypt, Peru, and Mongolia, and says the experience has helped enhance his work: “Allowing me and the dancers to see the world has shown us how universal we all are.”
Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company concludes its 20th-anniversary year this month with three performances at George Washington University’s Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre September 21 through 23. The program, which Burgess calls a “mini retrospective,” includes four of the company’s signature works, including “Becoming American,” which tells the story of a Korean adoptee’s arrival in the US, and “Charlie Chan and the Mystery of Love,” which is an autobiographical piece based on Burgess’s own experiences. “I tell stories through movement—through dance. All of these works are about finding a place to belong,” Burgess says.
Broadway behemoth The Book of Mormon arrives at the KenCen next summer. Photograph by Flickr user jenny8lee.
The Kennedy Center announced its 2012–13 season this morning, and if you haven’t seen a Broadway show in a good few years, let’s just say now is your chance to make up for it.The Book of Mormon— Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone’s Broadway mega-smash—will arrive at the KenCen next summer, while War Horse, Anything Goes, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, and Million Dollar Quartet are also on the schedule. This fall, the Kennedy Center will host a pre-Broadway production of Jekyll and Hyde starring American Idol alum Constantine Maroulis, as well as an original production of Ferenc Molnár’s The Guardsman, directed by Gregory Mosher, next spring.
Airborne DC will perform with Zip Zap Circus USA at the Atlas Performing Arts Center Friday. Photograph courtesy of the Airborne DC website.
Thursday, March 1
THEATER: If you love plays but lose track of whether Mercutio is a Montague 40 minutes in, check out the Best of the Source Festival—the four best ten-minute plays from the past four years for ten bucks. The plays, being performed at Atlas Performing Arts Center, tend to be offbeat, action-packed, and easy to follow. 7:30 PM. Can't make it tonight? Catch the show tomorrow at 10 PM.
DANCE: You can shake it with the best of them to “Party Rock Anthem,” but are you down with the hand claps and heel tapping of flamenco? Learn as part of DC’s Flamenco Festival 2012 at GW’s Lisner Auditorium. Beginner class starts at 7 PM; if you have some experience, check out the 9 PM class. Tickets ($10) are available through Ticketmaster or at the Lisner box office. 7 to 10 PM.
FILM: If even after the Oscars, you can’t get enough film, check out the DC Independent Film Festival, which kicks off tonight at the US Navy Heritage Center. Tonight at 6:45, talk about film with Les Blank, a documentary filmmaker who recently won the International Documentary Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. (Tickets are $14 online or at the door.) Otherwise, wait till 9:30 for the premiere of A Swingin’ Trio, about a really awkward Valentine’s Day dinner shared by a husband, wife, and, potentially, the wife’s lover. Tickets for this show are $10, available here.
The Washington National Opera stages Così Fan Tutte. Photograph by Richard H. Smith for Royal Opera House.
Thursday, February 23
ART: “Frida Kahlo: Her Photos” opens tonight at the Artisphere. The first and only showing in the US will feature more than 250 intimate photographs from the artist’s personal collection. There will be a public opening reception tonight from 7 to 10. Free. The show runs through March 25.
FUNDRAISER: Rock band Farewell Republic and alt-rock group Head on Sticks perform at DC9. Proceeds will benefit DC Vote, an organization dedicated to securing full voting representation for DC residents. Tickets ($10) can be purchased at the door or through the venue’s website. Doors open at 8 PM.
BOOKS: Elizabeth Dowling Taylor signs copies of her new book, A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons, at the Woman’s National Democratic Club. Taylor served as the director of interpretation at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and as a fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. The signing includes a lunch, a presentation, and a Q&A session. Tickets ($30) can be purchased through the event’s website. 2 PM.
KID-FRIENDLY: The Kennedy Center’s production of The Wings of Ikarus Jackson ends today. Adapted from the children’s book Wings, the uplifting story is about a young boy who can fly. Tickets ($18) can be purchased through the KenCen’s website. 12:30 PM.
R&B singer Estelle performs at the Birchmere tonight. Photograph courtesy of the artist’s Facebook page.
Wednesday, February 22
BALLET: The Washington Ballet presents Twyla Tharp: AllAmerican at the Kennedy Center. The program features some of Tharp’s most famous works, including “Push Comes to Shove,” “Surfer at the Styx River,” and “Nice Sinatra Songs.” Tickets ($20 to $125) can be purchased through the KenCen’s website. 8 PM. The show runs though February 26.
MUSIC: South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo perform at Ram's Head Tavern. The Grammy Award–winning artists have collaborated with everyone from Paul Simon and Dolly Parton to Josh Groban and Stevie Wonder. Tickets ($35) can be purchased through the venue’s website. 8 PM.
KID-FRIENDLY: Olney Theatre Center’s production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown opens tonight. In this delightful musical, the Peanuts gang comes to life through song and dance. Tickets ($26 to $39) can be purchased through the theater’s website. 8 PM. The play runs though March 18.