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Baryshnikov in Russia

     by Alovert, Nina

Baryshnikov in Russia

With this book, Nina Alovert reminiscences about the early years of her old friend, acclaimed dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. She provides a history of the Kirov theater and describes the cultural life in Leningrad in the 1960s and early 1970s, using this information as a backdrop for her discussion of Baryshnikov's struggle as a "Soviet" artist. Using rare photographs (some quite stunning)and interviews with those who knew him, she shows how Baryshnikov progressed from a talented child into one of the greatest male ballet dancers of all time. Her chapter on the ballet "The Creation of the World" highlights the dancer's excitement at the opportunity to create a new role in a new ballet, his chance to get away from the stale Soviet productions of much of the classical repertory. Her recollections of talks with Baryshnikov also give insight into his interpretations of those same classical roles. In the chapter on the ballet "Giselle," Alovert tells of Baryshnikov's desire to create his own interpretation of Count Albrecht, an interpretation completely different from that of his predecessors in the role. She also discusses the problem that he had in finding partners who were able to challenge him artistically. Although Alovert's tone is gossipy at times, this adds a familiarity to the book, bringing the reader into Baryshnikov's past. Alovert includes both an appendix of all debuts and new roles Baryshnikov danced while in Russia, and a transcript of a 1973 (pre-defection) interview with the artist. 

This book provides a fascinating look into the arts world of Soviet Russia, shedding light on why so many of the Soviet Union's artists chose to defect in order to gain creative freedom. For those who have seen the mature Baryshnikov perform in recent years with the White Oak Dance Project, it gives a glimpse into how he got where he is and why he continues to make daring artistic choices as he nears retirement. Although this is an older book (1984), it is still historically interesting, especially in light of the breakdown of the former Soviet Union.

Reviewed by mh, 11/98. Other reviews by mh.