Mikhail Baryshnikov, photographerby Marianne Combs, Minnesota Public Radio
Legendary dancer and occasional actor Mikhail Baryshnikov was in Minneapolis this weekend for the opening of an exhibition of his photography. The show is called "Merce My Way." The images are of Merce Cunningham's modern dance company. But when it comes to launching a new career, being a celebrity both helps and hurts.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Mikhail Baryshnikov's popularity spans generations and continents, but his fan base is predominantly female.
There are the women who adore him for his incredible strength, agility and grace on stage, dancing in hundreds of ballets, and recently in more modern work.
Then there are the women who know Baryshnikov through television and film. They adored him in the 1970s for his role as a playboy in the movie "The Turning Point," for which he was nominated for an Oscar.
And for many young women out there, Mikhail Baryshnikov was nobody until he was Carrie Bradshaw's love interest on the HBO series Sex and the City.
So it's no surprise that when Mikhail Baryshnikov appeared at the Weinstein Gallery in Minneapolis for the opening of his photography exhibition, he drew in a big crowd. Most of the people there appeared more interested in him than in what was on the walls.
Those who took the time to look at his photographs may very well have been impressed. New York Times dance critic Alistair Macaulay has seen thousands of pictures of dancers. He says most limit the photographer to the role of a journalist more than an artist.
But Macaulay, upon seeing Baryshnikov's photos, was surprised. He says Baryshnikov captures the emotions of the dance.
"He was really being painterly in the way that he photographed dance," said Macaulay, "using particularly a form of blurring that showed how the dancer, or parts of the dancer, would move through space."
Macaulay says Baryshnikov is taking a much more active role in his photography. This is literally true -- for his series "Merce My Way," Baryshnikov got up on stage with the dancers during their final dress rehearsal, and darted around them as they performed, often just inches away.
His photographs are large, bold and colorful. Baryshnikov's blurring of the movement makes the dancers sometimes appear alien or angelic.
The morning after the opening, Baryshnikov sat in a now empty gallery. He says photographing dancers has taught him to see their work with new eyes.
"They are servants to the choreographer, of course, but at the same time they are bringing a great deal of individuality to the ensemble," said Baryshnikov. "And that's what makes the whole collage of when they dance together, and then you suddenly get that overall orgasmic effect. It's a high."
Baryshnikov has been exploring photography for the past 30 years, but he's only recently turned his lens on dance. For a long time he didn't like photographs of dancers; the images didn't capture what he felt. So he challenged himself to do better.
When asked if he sometimes wishes people would ignore him at gallery openings and spend more time with his artwork, he says he's used to the attention.
But he says if his fans really want to know him as a person, they'd do well to give his photographs a closer look.
"It's much more personal in a way than my appearances, say, in Sex and the City, because this is deeply in me and I'm not playing any role. That's my eyes," he said, while pointing to a photograph, "the way I see Merce's work... and what can be more personal than that?"
"Merce My Way" runs through Aug. 2 at Weinstein Gallery in Minneapolis.
Meanwhile, Baryshnikov says he's already compiling a body of photographs featuring ethnic dance, hip hop, ballet and more, which he plans to gather into a future show titled "Dance My Way."
- Morning Edition, 06/23/2008, 7:55 a.m.