BARYSHNIKOV: From Russia to the West by Gennad Smakov

BARYSHNIKOV: From Russia to the West

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A ""somewhat personal introduction to Baryshikov's career thus far""--by an old friend and fellow ÉmigrÉ whose close-up perceptions are sometimes enlightening, sometimes too colored by ideology or partisanship. Unsurprisingly, the most intriguing material here (though also the most opinionated) is on the young, Latvian-born, technically perfect Misha in Russia: Smakov sees him as part of the post-Stalin generation that resisted ""ideological deprivation"" through a ""nihilistic sense of irony""; as a quasi-intellectual hero who became a Kirov star despite his impossible-to-categorize appearance, despite the esthetic poverty of his superiors. Once Misha had defected, however--and, as told here, there's no drama in the escape--Smakov must largely resort to the sort of ballet-by-ballet rundown that's done better in Baryshnikov at Work or in the writings of Arlene Croce (whom Smakov, to his credit, quotes at length). True, he does give us his insider's view of Misha as someone who ""prefers the company of Joseph Brodsky, the Russian poet, to any fancy party."" But the private life, aside from one or two supremely discreet references, is strictly off-limits. And Smakov's prose is flatly plain at best, with stiff, wordy stretches when adopting the role of dance-historian or critic (""Tharp constructed the ballet as a sort of dance continuum, an apotheosis of the dancing body unconstrained by conceptions of a definite style""). Still, there is more attempt to illuminate ballet-history here (especially the roots of the Balanchine style) than in most dancer profiles--and, though already dated (ending with Misha's TV special), this is worthy of serious, if cautious, attention from the less glamor-minded sectors of the dance readership.

Pub Date: April 9th, 1981