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Baryshnikov in Berkeley

The dance legend talks about taking on Anton Chekhov’s stories of failed love.


T. Charles Erickson


At age 65, dance legend Mikhail Baryshnikov still performs, though not necessarily in tights. These days, he draws audiences to experimental plays, such as the multimedia A Man in a Case, which runs through February 16 at Berkeley Rep.


Q: Man in a Case is based on two stories of failed love by Anton Chekhov. What attracted you to them?

A: The stories have modern overtones: women’s issues, moral aspects of relationships, conservatism versus the status quo. This is what’s happening today. Yes, the stories are about failed love—but a lot more. It sounds like they were written yesterday.

Q: You’ve done many things in your career: dance, movies, TV. What’s next?

A: I wish I knew; I’d plan ahead! This year, I’m doing two projects: Bob Wilson’s new play, An Old Woman, and A Man in a Case. But my main job is directing my New York center [Baryshnikov Arts Center], which involves programming, developing new ideas, fundraising, etc. I am very interested in new theater forms. I still like to perform and put myself on the edge. I just have to find the right projects, which at my age don’t necessarily involve dance.

Q: Are you interested in doing more TV after Sex and the City?

A: I get a lot of proposals, but most are silly. They want me to be the choreographer who is doing this or that. Or the Russian gangster. If there was an interesting project, I’m not saying no. But it has to be something that resonates with my brain, heart, and guts.

Q: You’re considered one of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century. What made you a star?

A: It’s difficult for me to go back and reevaluate what I’ve done. I am not a choreographer. I just wanted to work for people, and creative people liked that and opened their doors and their talent to me—whether it was Sir Frederick Ashton, Balanchine, Martha Graham, Mark Morris, or Twyla Tharp. And when you’ve had those kinds of partners, it’s easier to take the next step.

Q: Do you enjoy visiting the Bay Area?

A: I love Berkeley. I like the audience, the energy, the young people. And my friend [Chez Panisse founder] Alice Waters!

For information on Man in a Case, visit berkeleyrep.org.

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