Bill Lockwood

Mikhail Baryshnikov

White Oak Dance Project

Raquel Aedo

Corrections or additions?

This article by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July 21,

1999. All rights reserved.

At Last, the Boss of Dan: Bruce and Misha

Baby boomers may be showing some flab, but there are

some, at least, who can still command a hot ticket. When the soon

to be 50-year-old Bruce Springsteen opened ticket sales recently for

two September shows in Philadelphia, the phones rang and rang, and

the dimensions of the concert series grew and grew: from two to six

sold-out shows, all within the space of a single Saturday morning.

(And that’s on top of the 15 sold-out shows that began last week at

the Meadowlands.)

In a strikingly similar vein, when 51-year-old dance superstar Mikhail

Baryshnikov and his White Oak Project opened ticket sales for three

shows at McCarter Theater, the demand was enormous, and the engagement

grew from three to six shows, now set for Wednesday, July 28, through

Monday, August 2. McCarter’s special programming director, Bill Lockwood,

says the six-show run is unprecedented in the theater’s 70-year programming

history.

Granted, Springsteen’s First Union Center seats 18,000 per show, whereas

McCarter commands just over 1,000. But in terms of proportion, the

mature Baryshnikov has clearly become the Bruce Springsteen of American

dance today.

"In terms of ticket selling, he’s the dance equivalent of a Bruce

Springsteen — on a small scale, of course," says Lockwood.

"Years after the height of his ballet career, he remains an icon.

His star has not dimmed at all. We could have sold two weeks’ worth

of performances, but his schedule did not permit it."

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Bill Lockwood

Although Lockwood had long ago despaired of ever booking Baryshnikov,

he says his interest in the dance sensation dates back to his first

American appearances of the 1970s. "I saw him dance with ABT right

after he defected. He was in his 20s then, and he was already a major

star, an international sensation. I’m not a professional dance critic,

and I never compare dancers. I was just a member of the audience whose

jaws dropped when we saw him."

Lockwood ranks Baryshnikov and his Soviet predecessor, Rudolph Nureyev,

whom he also saw perform, as the two most influential male classical

dancers of the past half-century. "The tremendous audiences for

dance of the past 30 or 40 years has been due in no small part to

these two men," he says. "There was a time when you would

have dragged audiences kicking and screaming into the Met or the New

York State Theater to see a `Sleeping Beauty’ or a `Swan Lake.’ But

Baryshnikov cut across that. He was certainly a seminal figure in

that area."

Like any successful superstar, Baryshnikov, the former Soviet premier

danseur who defected to the United States during the Kirov’s 1974

tour, has re-invented himself over the years. And in the process,

he continues to enjoy a professional life in dance that is as rewarding

as it is rigorous.

As a supreme exponent of virtuosic classical ballet, he dazzled audiences

on both sides of the Iron Curtain. In the United States, he led American

Ballet Theater, first as its star, and later as its artistic director.

He found a way to dance for George Balanchine at the "star-free"

New York City Ballet. He starred on TV with Twyla Tharp and Liza Minnelli,

and on the big screen with hoofer Gregory Hines; he even starred on

Broadway as the bug of Kafka’s eerie "Metamorphosis." From

1980 to 1989, he directed American Ballet Theater, introducing some

controversial new works by modern dance choreographers.

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Mikhail Baryshnikov

Baryshnikov has not only brought new audiences to dance, but has given

generously to assist companies in their own fundraising. Having lent

his star power to galas for the companies of Mark Morris and Martha

Graham, among others, he comes to Princeton directly from dancing

with the Merce Cunningham company at the Lincoln Center Festival programs

celebrating Cunningham’s 80th birthday.

When he is not working, Baryshnikov treasures his family life and

his privacy. For the past 17 years he has lived on a farm in the Hudson

Valley that he shares with his wife, the former ABT dancer Lisa Rinehart,

and their three children, two daughters and son. His third and eldest

daughter, Aleksandra, whose mother is Jessica Lange, begins college

this fall.

When he left American Ballet Theater, Baryshnikov traded

in his white tights for the barefoot dance expression that began with

Isadora Duncan. Since 1990 his dance life has been with the White

Oak Dance Project, a company — or more accurately a concept —

he devised with choreographer Mark Morris. Funded through the largess

of the paper millionaire, the late Howard Gilman, it is named for

Gilman’s White Oak Plantation, a 9,000-acre estate in northern Florida.

The project was designed as an alternative to the youth-driven companies

of the ballet world, to create repertory and extended residencies

that would serve both the dancers and their art.

Influenced by his early collaborations with the maverick choreographer

Twyla Tharp, Baryshnikov came to modern dance simply as a man who

loved to move. Insulated in the Soviet Union from the century-long

antipathy between ballet and modern dance, he continues to swing comfortably

between its various exponents. Although, he and Morris founded White

Oak together, within two years Morris withdrew to devote his attention

to his own company, and Baryshnikov took on White Oak as his principal

forum for his continuing artistic expression.

In an interview with British writer Alastair Macaulay, Baryshnikov

described how, as a young, short, unregal Soviet dancer, he fought

to win the coveted principal roles of classical ballet, but eventually

learned their limitations. The classical roles, he explains, were

not quite enough. "I was not quite here and not quite there,"

he says. "Those princely roles had been done well before me, and

someone will do them better after me. Sure, they’re good roles, but,

you know, they’ve been done. What I needed — what would live longer

— was something new, something made for me."

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White Oak Dance Project

Today White Oak commissions new works for Baryshnikov and a company

of five women: Raquel Aedo, Emily Coates, Emmanuele Phuon, Ruthlyn

Salomons, and Susan Shields. The group is independent and financially

solvent, generating its revenue through ticket sales. In the nine

years of its existence, the company has made 30 national and international

tours.

The company, which began in the early ’90s performing starry programs

in big venues, in recent years has become a smaller, leaner company.

And its commissions, which began with the most prominent names in

choreography, have grown increasingly adventuresome. Two different

McCarter programs will include solos and group works by such major

figures as Trisha Brown and Morris, with works by the lesser-known

Neil Greenberg, Lucy Guerin, and Amy O’Brien, and a pungent new solo

for Baryshnikov by the Japanese Kabuki artist Tamasaburo Bando. On

August 10, White Oak moves to the New Victory Theater in New York

for a two-week engagement and a premiere by Karole Armitage.

From the beginning, live musical accompaniment has been one of the

hallmarks of White Oak. This year’s tour features White Oak Chamber

Musicians Pedja Muzijevic, piano, and Alberto Parrini, cello, who

accompany Morris’s "The Argument," and the women’s trio "Vessel,"

set to the music of Chopin. Recorded music — from the score of

Hitchcock’s "Psycho" to a contemporary Japanese composition

— accompanies the other works.

Works on the tour program acquired from other companies include "The

Argument" by Mark Morris, a suite of five dances set to Robert

Schumann’s "Five Pieces in Folk Style" first performed by

the Morris company; and Trisha Brown’s "Glacial Decoy" of

1979, that has a striking black-and-white set by Robert Rauschenberg.

Also featured on the programs are two works by the little-known Australian

choreographer Lucy Guerin. The first is "Two Lies," a women’s

trio that Baryshnikov saw the company perform in New York in 1996.

He then went on to commission a work, "Soft Center," a duet

for Baryshnikov and Raquel Aedo, set to a contemporary electronic

score, that is new this season.

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Raquel Aedo

In a telephone interview from her New York City home,

Raquel Aedo talks about the ins and outs of dancing for and with an

international superstar. "It makes you want to do your best when

you see someone who’s a master working so hard," she says.

Aedo, 28, comes from a large Cuban-American family in Miami. A lifelong

dancer and graduate of Miami’s New World School for the Arts, she

moved to New York in 1990 and found her first professional work with

the Judson-era iconoclast, Douglas Dunn. Three years later she was

taking a Merce Cunningham class, when she noticed Baryshnikov observing

the proceedings. Although she maintains that she immediately lost

her footing, after class she found a note for her on the bulletin

board to call White Oak.

"This was in 1994 and they were performing at Lincoln Center.

Misha asked me to come over couple of days later to a rehearsal. A

couple of women in the group showed me some stuff and we all did it

together. I began touring with them right away," says Aedo. "When

he first came over to talk to me, of course it was strange. But he’s

very down to earth. He puts himself at our level. But he’s still the

boss."

"That first year we did Morris pieces, a beautiful Hanya Holm

revival, and a Cunningham repertory work," she recalls. "Kevin

O’Day was dancing with White Oak then and he choreographed a quartet.

Misha likes to open opportunities to younger choreographers who otherwise

might not have a vehicle for their work."

Aedo stresses that White Oak was put together as a project, not as

a conventional company with long-term plans. "Naturally it was

always going to be changing," she says. "We work tour to tour.

There have been a lot of different dancers in the company, [more than

50, in fact] and the work has become more contemporary."

Last year the group went on a half-year hiatus, before regrouping

for six months of rehearsals to put together this year’s program of

new works. The only White Oak dancer with more seniority that Aedo

is Ruthlyn Solomon, who joined one year before her.

"Watching Misha perform has always been, and will always be, extraordinary,"

Aedo says. "With every new work he takes on, it brings more and

more out of him. It’s an ongoing process. Modern dance brings more

out of you in different ways. When he was the big ballet star, that

was great. But this is a whole other side of dance. This is personal."

Aedo says White Oak has several distinctive features. Working closely

in a small group is one.

"We work with the choreographer for a few weeks to learn a piece,

put the piece together, fine tune it, and then that’s it. We are responsible

for continuing it on. We don’t have a rehearsal director telling us

what to do all the time. We’re each responsible for learning the work

well. And we all help each other. With White Oak you have to be open

to taking or giving correction to other dancers."

Does Aedo seen Baryshnikov’s professional longevity as a role model?

"I think the myth of the young dancer is fading. If you take care

of yourself and do the right thing, there is work you should or could

be doing," she says quickly. Then adds, "Personally, I don’t

plan on doing this at his age. I have other things to do."

She and her husband of five years, Christopher Temple, who she describes

as a landscaper by trade and a singer-songwriter by vocation, look

forward to buying property upstate, starting a family, and trying

some organic farming.

About those Bruce Springsteen shows — and the number that appeared

mercifully to multiply to satisfy the demand of hungry fans on a Saturday

morning. The fans didn’t know it, but there always were six shows

booked, not just the two shows callers were competing for. But promoters

know about the psychology of supply and demand, they know their marketing.

And much of what they know, apparently, they learned from Barnum and

Bailey.

— Nicole Plett

White Oak Dance Project, McCarter Theater, 91 University

Place, 609-683-8000. Tickets $42 & $47. Call for availability. Wednesday,

July 28, through Monday, August 2, at 8 p.m.


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