Review: “In Paris”—Mikhail Baryshnikov is smoldering as a downtrodden general in a May-December romance, at Berkeley Rep through May 13, 2012
Last Wednesday’s opening night performance of In Paris at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre began an uncharacteristic 17 minutes late. No one was more keenly aware of this than Mikhail Baryshnikov, who stood waiting quietly in darkness at the back of the stage for the action to begin. And when it did begin, none of us were exactly sure what was happening because we had been thrown a kilter by the time…but a slight woman in a hat appeared in the front rows, where the audience was seated, and she made her way to the left wall of the theatre and began to move a blown-up postcard through the tightly seated audience, bumping a few people in the process. She foisted it up onto to the stage where she then dragged and rotated it towards a stationary Baryshnikov, who was dressed in a trench coat, staring downwards. The black and white image was an old photo of Notre Dame and, as tentative and drawn out as the gesture was, we had all just made the symbolic journey to Paris. That’s just one of the vehicles that Russian director Dmitry Krymov uses to engage his audiences in this very poetic staging of Baryshnikov’s new show which tells its story through music, song, video projections, props that are suggestive of moving collage or puzzle pieces, dramatic lighting by Damir Ismagilov, and a palette of black, white and gray hues in Maria Tregubova’s set and costume design.
The story itself is set in Paris in the 1930’s and has been adapted from a short story written in 1940 by Ivan Bunin, the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1933, who himself lived in exile in Paris and never returned to Russia. Baryshnikov is Nikolai Platonitch, a retired general of White Russian army who was thrown out of Russia by the Bolshevik army, is living in Paris, and by chance meets a beautiful young Russian émigré, Olga, a waitress, played by the compelling young Russian actress Anna Sinyakina. The two lonely souls fall in love but, alas, their tender journey is bittersweet. Rounding out the ensemble are actors from Russia and Finland, members of the Dmitry Krymov Laboratory, who don’t have defined roles but serve as a chorus, accompanying the drama at the moment by moving props and singing.
Baryshnikov, now 64, is considered one of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century but he has also enjoyed an extensive acting career. He made his first film debut in the 1977 film The Turning Point, and was last seen on Sex and the City, playing the man dumped by Carrie Bradshaw. His most recent theatrical performance was in Beckett Shorts, a collection off four short Beckett plays, directed by JoAnne Akalaitis for Samuel Beckett’s centenary in 2007. In In Paris, he first appears in shadows, not moving much at all, yet gesturing the girl with an inner movement. Instead of physically gliding towards her like he did so dramatically in numerous ballets, he practices a form of expression that relies on calling forth his bearing as a general who has shed his uniform but still wears it invisibly. The girl responds.
Dmitry Krymov, the influential Russian artist, director, and set designer has given Bunin’s story new resonance. His small experimental Moscow theater company, Dmitry Krymov Laboratory, has become somewhat of a phenomenon in the past 7 years for its repertoire of staged works called “painters theatre” with a very dominant and engaging visual aesthetic. In the first few minutes of In Paris, the word “loneliness” is projected across the stage in several languages, evoking a connection to the world’s displaced peoples and the collective loneliness that underpins Bunin’s story. Video projections of texts—dialogue translations and poetry—are projected creatively across the stage and actors throughout, making a dynamic visual impression.
The drama is organized around a circle which symbolically reinforces the characters’ situations in a fairly typical Russian love story. The aged Baryshnikov/Nikolai Platonitch has lived his life and he’s not leaving his destiny. Sinyakina/Olga is a simple soul who has been endowed with beauty. She has a small world and doesn’t dream outside of it. She has a moment with him and then it ends and that’s it. Her crest comes in a brief scene of preparation and anticipation, as she dresses for her first date with Platonitch. She stands before the audience and does something akin to Salome’s dance of the seven veils with her dress, a magnificently stretchy and utilitarian creation which she transforms into dozens of fashion statements before settling on the right one. Other props evoke a subtly humorous association with handicrafts—there’s the tilted table at the restaurant, that serves as foil for a delightful small talk about soup, and later a car—a large cut-out—that transports them on their first date.
There are relatively few spoken words but hearing Baryshnikov and Sinyakina communicate tenderly in their native Russian is soothing, lyrical—especially their precious small talk about soup.
Baryshnikov sustains our interest keenly throughout as a presence not dependent on movement at all—it isn’t until the end that he dances briefly. He collapses and then there’s a dream sequence, a kind of resurrection, where he’s a matador dominating a bull against the musical backdrop of Bizet’s Carmen. His dance is elegant, refined, brief— the perfect ending to this dynamic collage that paints a rich portrait of two lost souls and the illusive nature of love.
It’s been a very strong season for Berkeley Rep which prepped us for this melancholy Russian story with Chekov’s Three Sisters in April 2011, a Russian classic steeped in loss whose characters’ sufferings are not too distant from those of In Paris.
Run time is 80 minutes with no intermission
Performed in Russian and French with English subtitles
Adapted from the short story by Ivan Bunin; Direction and adaptation by Dmitry Krymov; Set and costume design by Maria Tregubova; Music by Dmitry Volkov
Performed by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Anna Sinyakina, Maxim Maminov, Maria Gulik, Dmitry Volkov, and Polina Butko with Ossi Makkonen and Lasse Lindberg
Featuring the work of Damir Ismagilov (lighting designer), Andrey Shchukin (movement coach), Alexei Ratmansky (choreographer), and Tei Blow (audio and video designer)
Free tastings: Join Berkeley Rep for complimentary pre-performance tastings! Sample wine, beer, chocolate, champagne, vodka, organic produce or other delights before select Friday 8pm, Saturday 8pm and Sunday 7pm performances. New tasting events are being added all the time, so be sure to check back often!
- Friday, May 4: Peterson Winery / 7pm
- Saturday, May 5: Calstar Cellars / 7pm
- Friday, May 11: Cater Too / 7pm
- Saturday, May 12: Via Pacifica Selections/ 7pm
Details: In Paris runs for three weeks only and ends May 13, 2012. The Berkeley Repertory Theatre (Roda Theatre) is located at 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704. Tickets are $22.50 -$125, with discounts for students and seniors and half-price to anyone under the age of 30. For tickets and info: http://www.berkeleyrep.org or phone 510.647.2949
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