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Mikhail Baryshnikov and The Old Woman

14 July 2013 / 21:07:00  GRReporter
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The BBC journalist is categorical – no matter how you may imagine Mikhail Baryshnikov, as one of the most charismatic people that have ever set foot on the world stage, or as Alexander Petrovsky from the popular TV series Sex and the City – it is absolutely impossible to imagine his metamorphosis in The Old Woman.

This is a performance of "The Wizard of images" and frequent guest in Greece in recent years, Bob Wilson, where the ballet star appears as an actor, together with artist William Dafoe who is also very famous. The show was staged a few days ago at the International Festival in Manchester, and, in the period 18 July to 21 July it will be performed in Athens in the Onassis Cultural Centre. It is the most anticipated event of this year's Athens Festival.

“With his ghostly white face and mouth and eyes highlighted in black, he looks like a clown or cartoon character,” says the BBC journalist. The play is adapted from the eponymous short story by Russian writer Daniil Kharms (1905-1942). For Baryshnikov, it is the latest step in a career that has evolved through classical ballet, contemporary dance, Broadway, the cinema and TV. His skills are not exhausted here, since he is a photographer, collector of works of art, producer, and, of course, husband, father and grandfather.

“This is the most difficult and the most challenging role in my life,” said Baryshnikov about The Old Woman a few days ago. He added that the challenge had been increased by the demands of Wilson. "With most directors, an actor knows how they work and what to expect," added Baryshnikov. He also said that Wilson asked him to do things which he had never dreamt of in his life - sing and do choreography. Baryshnikov refused many times, since he does not consider himself a choreographer. Wilson is known to be a perfectionist and Baryshnikov confirmed it. He said that a rehearsal with Wilson is more exhausting than 24/7 dancing and added that it was the hardest thing he had ever done.

The Old Woman and Daniil Kharms

Imagine that while coming out of your apartment one afternoon, you encounter a strange old woman and talk to her. Imagine that upon returning home that evening, you are welcomed by the same old lady who has taken your favourite chair and forces you to lie face down on the floor. When you look up, you see that the old woman has died. Will you call the police? And what if they accused you of killing her? Maybe it's better to get rid of her quietly? But how? This is the nightmare of the protagonist of the story The Old Woman by Russian poet, playwright and prose writer Daniil Kharms.

Today, Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachev (which is his real name) is considered one of the most important writers of the Russian avant-garde of the first half of the 20th century. Born in St. Petersburg in 1905, he died in 1942 in the psychiatric ward at Leningrad Prison No. 1 during the German blockade. A supporter of Russian futurists and founder of the avant-garde Union of Real Art, he stayed away from the socialist realism. He was imprisoned twice because of his involvement in the Anti-Soviet Writers' Union.

He published children's stories in magazines that enjoyed success. His other texts, ironic, satirical, nightmarish, fragmentary, surreal, or erotic, remained largely unpublished before his death. His writings were saved by his friend Iakov Drushkin, preserving them in a suitcase for decades.

Initially, critics were interested in Kharms because of his children’s stories in the 1960s, when his works were published for the first time to the West. His story "The Old Woman" was written in May-June 1939 and included in the volume "Blue Notebook", together with poems, sketches and notes of the writer.

Who is Mikhail Baryshnikov?

Born in Riga, Latvia, in 1948, he had a difficult childhood. His father taught him in a strict and military manner. Baryshnikov used these habits in his performances, as he himself admitted in an interview for the New York Times. He has been dancing since he was 12 years old, and when he turned 16 he entered the Vaganova Ballet School. His debut was in 1967 with the Kirov Ballet in "Giselle." Soon, the most famous Russian choreographers, Oleg Vinogradov, Konstantin Sergeyev, Igor Chernikova and Leonid Jacobson choreographed ballets for him. Jakobson’s 1969 ballet Vestris is considered a milestone in his career.

The audience was delighted, specialists too. Critic Clive Barnes wrote for the New York Times that Baryshnikov was the most perfect dancer. By the end of the 1960s, Baryshnikov became one of the most important ballet dancers in the Soviet Union.

Tags: Mikhail Baryshnikov The Old Woman Bob Wilson Athens Festival Daniil Kharms performance
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