Thoroughly Postmodern Misha

Ballet Renegade Warms Up at the Barre

Back from the deli, he unwraps an egg sandwich on a kaiser roll and eats it, standing up, while watching the run-through of another piece. A moment later he's rolling a wooden massage tool back and forth under the soles of his feet. Then he's down on the floor, rolling his spine along a six-inch white rubber ball, stretching his hamstrings by pulling his knees to his chest.

Trisha Brown shows up and Misha rehearses his rendition of her Homemade, a piece in which he'll wear an old-fashioned film projector on his back, performing a sequence of movements while his projected image, trailing behind him on walls and curtains, does exactly the same things.

"Great, Misha," she tells him. "You've made it your own." He comes and kisses her hand.

Physical therapist Susan Edgerton tends to a famous foot.
Photographs by Pete Kuhns
Physical therapist Susan Edgerton tends to a famous foot.

The remarkable thing about this process is the pleasure Baryshnikov appears to take in it, the palpable glee he brings to the work and shares with his young colleagues. They have the physical camaraderie of athletes, but they're inspired by more than endorphins. They know they've hooked up with one of the dance world's most amazing enterprises, one of its most generous artists.

Young dancers triumph with their bodies. Older ones need to use their brains. Misha has built himself the perfect environment, one in which he can work indefinitely, one that privileges ideas over physical tricks. He can continue to dance, and he can continue to learn.

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