He is like a surgeon who is cutting with a knife your belly and looking straight in your eyes. He is killing you, and he is telling you. I had never before read a writer who has so no hope, who gives not the slightest chance. Whatever illusions you had, Brodsky makes you say goodbye to them. And so you achieve a sort of Buddhistic calm. Mikhail Baryshnikov is a favorite son of Riga.
Both his parents were Russian, but after the war the Soviet Union was faced with a drastic housing shortage, and the outlying territories were forced to take in many Russians, including Lieutenant Colonel Nikolay Petrovich Baryshnikov, who taught military topography, and his wife, Aleksandra Vasilievna. By the time Baryshnikov graduated from the Vaganova Institute and joined the Kirov in , Brodsky had already returned from Norenskaya, and for the next seven years the two men lived in the same city.
Brodsky was a dangerous person to be seen with.
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By this time, furthermore, Baryshnikov too was under suspicion, as a defection risk. In , Brodsky was thrown out of Russia, and two years later Baryshnikov threw himself out. On tour in Toronto, he walked out of the stage door after a performance, signed some autographs, and then, instead of getting into the company bus, he turned and ran. A getaway car, arranged by friends, was waiting a few blocks away. He was now a Western artist. There are things to talk about.
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He sat down, and they talked for a long time. They spoke to each other every day. In Brodsky, born eight years before him, Baryshnikov acquired a kind of older brother, and he needed one. Though a number of people were very kind to him, he did not, at this early point, have close friends in the United States, and he was slow in making them, because he had no time to study English.
With Brodsky he could speak in Russian, and they had a city, a government—in some measure, a history—in common. I acquired a kind of certainty. When he was in town, he and Baryshnikov would take walks along the nearby Hudson River. His house was so cozy. And there were always interesting people: He was a stern judge. Brodsky loved water—he loved oceans, rivers.
He adored Venice—he wrote a book on it, Watermark—and the Venetians made him an honorary citizen. When he was young, he and his parents had a game where they would converse in a sort of cat-talk, meows in various registers. He said that if he had to live another life he would like to be a cat in Venice, or even a rat. He called Baryshnikov Mysh, or Mouse. He cared about world events, and he hated to miss the evening news. He was a skirt-chaser, and women were crazy about him, too.
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The prospect of his birthday thrilled him, and he would always stage a huge feast. They partied all night long. But Brodsky would bring him a book, with an inscription in it. In his interview with Laiks, Baryshnikov pulled one of the birthday books off his shelf and read the inscription: He has dumplings inside him.
BRODSKIS/BARIŠŅIKOVS | Jaunais Rīgas Teātris
The house is in Art Nouveau style—it looks as if it had been made by the French Art Nouveau architect Hector Guimard—but with certain odd features. Next to its front door, for example, is a dirty old fuse box that periodically spits out frightening sparks. Also, there is some sort of blackish moss creeping down the wooden strips that join the glass panels.
The music adds to the strangeness. There seems to be a sort of distant chorus, but sounding an unvarying note, plus, in the foreground, a noise of crickets. This becomes more strange when you find out later that the distant chorus is also a recording of crickets, but very, very speeded up. A man, Baryshnikov, appears at the back door carrying a small suitcase. He walks into the house, comes out the front door, pulls out a cigarette, bites off the filter Brodsky used to do that , pats himself down to locate a pack of matches, finds none, and unhappily replaces the cigarette in its box.
He puts on his glasses, opens one of the books, and begins reading a Brodsky poem.
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The one that ends the play was written when he was seventeen. The poems were all chosen and arranged by Hermanis. They are spoken in Russian, with supertitles scrolling up the cornice of the glass house. I had a story in my mind, that the play would be about a meeting between two people who had been closest friends for twenty years, and then one died.
Direct communication with the audience is not our goal. Audience is not necessary. Audience is able just to witness. Baryshnikov designed all the more elaborate movements, and he gives us a lot to look at. He spins, he stands on the chair, he strikes classical poses, he checks his teeth, he drinks the Jameson, he takes his clothes off and puts them on. He is constantly moving in and out of the house and thus from a state of firm reality to a sort of watery, dreamlike image as we watch him through the glass.
There is a crisis. There was a condition that the pauper must take as much as his old tattered bag could hold. The greed took over his conscience and he asked for more and eventually tore down the bag and forfeited every piece of coin. The painting is worthy of the story. The artist has so painstakingly produced the details; he is praiseworthy for his earnest efforts.
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