Adapted from two Anton Chekhov short stories, “Man In A Case” is a pair of haunting love stories — one of an officious, anti-social man and his involvement with an extroverted woman. The second, a tale of moral ambiguity in which the protagonist forgoes his love for a married woman. Though seemingly different, both are tales of fear trumping the pursuit of life’s most promising possibilities.
Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar, the team behind the internationally acclaimed Big Dance Theater, bring their signature style — fusing theater, dance, music and video — to this newly distinctive work featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov.
The Daily Press speaks with Baryshnikov to get his thoughts on the production.
DAILY PRESS: First, how did The Broad Stage come to be your home theatre in L.A.?
MIKHAIL BARYSHNIKOV: Well, in 2009 Dale Franzen invited me to perform “Three Solos and a Duet,” a dance program with the great dancer Anna Laguna. Then in 2012, I came back with Dimitri Krymov’s “In Paris.” The theater is intimate with wonderful acoustics and I feel totally comfortable here. It’s also pretty great to be near the ocean with all that busy-ness and then two minutes away all is quiet.
DP: Did you ever imagine, as a dancer, that acting would be in your future?
MB: When you’re a dancer you are an actor. I don’t separate those things. Even with non-story ballets, abstract pieces, you internally perform some kind of story and it comes through in the body language.
DP: Did it come to you naturally or would you say you had to train as hard for acting as for dance?
MB: You know, I always laugh when someone says a performer is “born” to be an actor, or a dancer, or a clown. I’ve never met people like that! It’s all very hard work.
DP: What do you bring to the stage as an actor from dancing? Did it give you an edge?
MB: Years of performing as a dancer is obviously a lot of experience just being on stage. I guess you can call that an edge. It depends on the project. If there’s a lot of movement I feel a little more at home, but acting is a different kind of awareness so every project is a fresh challenge.
DP: The effect of “In Paris” was like a poem that washed over me. Walking out of the theatre I did not understand what I’d just seen, but throughout the week that followed, it stayed with me. It was poignant and beautiful and the staging was inventive. It seemed to be less about story than impact. How would you compare that work with “Man in a Case?”
MB: Well, I’m glad “In Paris” had that effect on you. In my opinion, “Man in a Case” is just as poetic, but with a very different language. Oddly enough, all the elements of the theater-live music, movement, sound effects, singing, etc. are used in both productions, but the final products are quite distinct from one another.
DP: How much input did you have in the creation of this piece? Was it made expressly for you? Or was it strictly collaborative?
MB: In my opinion, a choreographer or director never makes a piece expressly for you, it’s made on you. But I think it’s fair to say this was a collaboration in the sense that our directors, Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar, were open to suggestions from all the cast members.
DP: Should we expect similar works in the future; will you focus on any other acting projects?
MB: I’m performing now, in parallel with this play, Robert Wilson’s “The Old Woman” with Willem Dafoe. We performed it in Europe last year and this summer it will be at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I always have possibilities circulating in my head. It’s a kind of restlessness, or neurosis maybe — always thinking about the next step.
DP: My dear friend, local choreographer Raiford Rogers (Raiford Rogers Modern Ballet) mentioned to me that many ballet dancers born and trained in Russia revere folk dance. Is this also true for you? And if so, how has it played any role in your development or your process as dancer, actor, both or neither?
MB: I adore folk dance when it’s done at the highest possible level. It’s like learning another language and I really loved those classes when I was a student. Any new vocabulary adds to your overall depth as a performer so, yes, those skills definitely became part of the mix.
DP: How deeply do your Russian roots influence your artistry?
MB: Deep enough to have horrible mood swings … but seriously, Russia and Russian culture is my education, my past, my first language and those elements all color my thoughts. And there’s the accent, of course.
DP: This isn’t an easy or polite question to ask, but I must ask anyway. We are all aging; but when a dancer ages, physical limitations will have more of an impact. How are you reconciling yourself to the aging process? Are you trying in any way to “stave off” aging or do you accept the limitations and learn to work with them — is that what these productions are about? What’s your philosophical/emotional/intellectual approach to these issues that face us all?
MB: The first thought is how fast time passes. But even at the peak of my dance career I never thought of myself as exclusively a dancer. It was one part of myself — an important one — but a single part of a whole so it never feels like a part of me is totally disappearing.
About aging, I have a kind of philosophical view. Yes, we are all aging, but with these body aches and physical changes there are small moments of perception that weren’t so evident when I was young. It’s a quiet realization, maybe even a comprehension of everyday chaos and I open my arms to it. That’s kind of dark, but it feels honest. There’s the Russian in me speaking.
Sarah A. Spitz writes the “Culture Watch” column that appears on Thursdays in Santa Monica Daily Press.