Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Baryshnikov Talks Photography

He may not be gracing the stage quite so often these days, but ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov has remained an ever-present artistic force; look around town, and you’ll see his mark on everything from cultural venues (the impressive Baryshnikov Arts Center) to new modern dance (his young Hell’s Kitchen Dance troupe) to theater (in last year’s acclaimed Beckett Shorts) to worshipful artistic homages — his mostly naked body is depicted, Apollo-like, by Robert Wilson, in the lobby of BAM. His latest project, a photo exhibition at Mark Seliger’s 401 Projects, showcases the results of two years of following around the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and capturing their movements on digital film. Misha (and, to our delight and surprise, Cunningham himself!) took a break from the opening-night festivities to talk to Vulture.
You’ve been photographing for decades, but never dancers. Why this, now?
I was experimenting. I wanted to really take certain moments that the audience during the performance may not necessarily appreciate, maybe some emotional moments, some romantic moments that I see, and sometimes I feel the audience doesn’t. I know that sometimes they feel, “He [Merce] is so formal and so detached and not emotional,” but I think it’s actually quite the opposite. That’s what I was trying to show in my work.

Why had you never focused on dance photography before?
I never liked dance photography; it’s very flat, and dance photography in the studio looks very contrived. Very few photographers really know how to … it’s just a page in the book. It was not that I hated it, but I didn’t feel it was necessary compared with the real thing. But there were a few photographers — Brodovitch, Himmel, Ilse Bing, Irving Penn — who made me feel it was possible. I wanted the audience to see, to be able to imagine, the movement before and after, not just the frozen moment.

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