Valerie, Katherine, Richard, and I saw *Letter to a Man* at BAM on 10/21.
It's a one-man play about dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky, adapted from his letters, starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and directed by Robert Wilson. I had never seen Baryshnikov onstage and am a big fan of Wilson, I've seen many of his productions at BAM. His *Einstein on the Beach* is a masterpiece, it was such an honor to see that show, and I will never forget a moment at the end of his production of *Quartet*: Isabelle Huppert was lying on the floor, lit by a tight box of white light. She recited the same four or five lines over and over again, slowly, hypnotically. Something slowly rolled on from the right side of the stage: a rectangular object, something sloshing around, something floating. It was a fish tank! With an actual fish swimming around in it! What it had to do with the play, I have no idea, but it was genius. I didn't understand it, but I loved it. I think BAM could adopt that as their slogan.
This show was like that. It got off to a troubling start: Baryshnikov was sitting on a chair, saying, "I understand war. I have fought with my mother-in-law," in Russian. Then we heard a pre-recorded voice saying the same thing, in English. Then Baryshnikov said the same thing, then we heard it in English. Then the first part in both languages. Then the second in both languages. I don't think I was the only person in the audience who was worried that we were in for 75 minutes of hearing those two lines. Thankfully they moved on after a few minutes.
The use of music and sound design was brilliant. A few highlights: a song by Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan, a cute kitschy recording of "Tea For Two", and would you believe "The Teddy Bears' Picnic"?
My favorite scene featured a loud ticking clock, Baryshnikov reading a letter, and droopy dreamy music alternating with silence and the clock ticking, all in an abstract setting drenched in cool, rich blue light.
Baryshnikov did a little bit of dancing, what a thrill. His discipline is a wonder to behold, and I have rarely seen a performer who is so expressive when he's standing still. Katherine has recently gotten into K pop (a genre of Korean pop music) and told me that one of the things the K pop performers study is "body line", a precise method of positioning the body to communicate such qualities as beauty, poise, harmony. Baryshnikov used body line to communicate psychosis, mystification, estrangement.
The bows were one of the highlights of the show. Baryshnikov bounded or skipped onto the stage, then when he got to the desired spot, center stage, he stood still and bent at the waist in an entirely correct manner. I don't believe I'd ever seen such pleasingly correct deportment onstage. Very old school, and a welcome contrast to the postmodern content of the show itself.