'We love you!" someone in the front row shouted as Mikhail Baryshnikov strode onto the Castle Theater stage. The exuberance reflected the mood of the night as Maui welcomed the dance legend back to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center last Thursday. Fans dressed up and turned out to see Baryshnikov perform "Three Solos and a Duet" together with another icon of dance, Ana Laguna.
As Baryshnikov hinted in a pre-show interview, each of the four pieces by three prominent choreographers had an unspoken story behind it. Deciphering the backstories added a note of intrigue to the evening; but, of course, our primary focus was simply Baryshnikov.
He dominated the stage from the moment he walked on for the first piece, "Valse-Fantasie," dressed simply in a white shirt and pants, a black jacket slung over his shoulder.
Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ana Laguna were brought back for three curtain calls after their memorable Castle Theater concert.
At age 61, Baryshnikov may no longer execute the soaring jets of his youth, but his intense talent is unmistakable. His movements were crisp and tight and graceful, down to the perfection of his pointed gray toes as he executed short catlike leaps. When he turned in slow motion, we could see the control inherent in every line of his lean, muscular body.
"Valse-Fantasie"'s backstory was about composer Mikhail Glinka, who was once infatuated with a great Russian beauty, but later found he no longer cared for her at all. Baryshnikov drew on his theatrical side to pantomime the lost love, with animated facial expressions ranging from joy to angst to uncertainty.
Alexei Ratmansky's choreography featured playful touches, like Baryshnikov posing and preening before an imaginary mirror, drawing chuckles from the audience. It was the first of many light moments throughout the show -snippets that revealed that "the legend" was not taking himself too seriously.
The next piece was the stunning "Solo for Two," which was choreographed for Laguna by her talented husband, Mats Ek. Laguna's ownership of the piece was evident, as she seized each movement and drew forth deep and painful emotion from it. Her story was one of loss and longing, illustrated with bold actions like throwing herself doll-like across a chair, writhing on the ground, lying down and kicking her legs. Yet, the dance was punctuated by startlingly mundane accents like a dry cough, a sneeze, a scratch to her backside; perhaps as a nod to the universal human condition and the onward marching of Life
In one of the most poignant moments, Laguna sat with bowed head and quietly polished the stage floor with the hem of her flowing red dress. Her long gray braid was a physical reminder that like Baryshnikov, she is no longer young.
The next piece, "Years later," took that reminder a step further. Commissioned by the Baryshnikov Arts Center and created by choreographer Benjamin Millepied and filmmaker Asa Mader, the piece juxtaposed Baryshnikov with huge screen images of himself, both past and present-day.
Even with the real Baryshnikov right there in front of us, it was hard to tear our eyes away from the vigorous young Misha dancing behind him in black-and-white film. As the youthful vision executed a truly impossible number of lightning-fast pirouettes, we shook our heads in wonder, only to notice that Baryshnikov had stopped dancing and was also shaking his head in disbelief.
It was a compelling moment: the older dancer watching the glory of his long-past youth. Many of us were probably wishing he would suddenly leap into the air - just to show us all.
Still, the humorous choreography kept things light. When the young Misha began to jet across the room, Baryshnikov suddenly clutched his back and groaned, and we had to laugh.
Yes, we loved him then, but we love him now, too. And if someday, he shuffles onstage just to do a soft-shoe routine, we'll still fill the theater. He is Baryshnikov.
The last piece was called "Place," a duet created by Ek specifically for the two dancers. The story was that of a man and woman who shared a history and came together to continue the journey of their relationship.
It was a glorious, multilayered piece, with dance that ranged from graceful to almost grotesque. The dancers used each other's bodies in the same way as they used the rug and table onstage - sometimes as a convenient object to push away and roll over; sometimes as a valued article to cherish and caress.
As in any relationship, there were moments of joy, as when Baryshnikov jumped and clicked his heels together; and moments of anger, as when Laguna shook the table so that it thundered against the floor. The two were in perfect rhythm, playing off each other, weaving in and out of an embrace, a waltz, a gentle lift. For every moment of togetherness, there was a period of separation; for every burst of vigorous activity, a reciprocal moment of rest.
And when it was over, and the renowned performers held hands and came out for a rousing standing ovation and not just one, but three curtain calls, someone handed up a lei and a bouquet of roses. Baryshnikov pressed them both into Laguna's arms.
More than a legend, Baryshnikov is a true gentleman of the dance. And we love him for that.
* Contact Sky Barnhart at email@example.com.