In ‘Man in a Case,’ the dancer-turned-actor speaks volumes about love through Chekhov’s uptight characters
By Shanee Edwards
This year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi closed with a ceremony that celebrated some of Russia’s greatest writers, including the timeless Anton Chekhov. This week, celebrated Russian dancer and choreographer Mikhail Baryshnikov is bringing two of Chekhov’s short stories to life on The Broad Stage in Santa Monica for the world premiere of his latest show, “Man in a Case.”
For this performance, Baryshnikov takes to the stage as an actor, collaborating with Annie B. Parson and Paul Lazar of Big Dance Theater.
“It has been amazing to watch him transition to theater,” Dale Franzen, artistic director of The Broad Stage, said about getting to know what Baryshnikov is like onstage without his ballet shoes. “‘Man in a Case’ is a tightly observed work about love and loss that is so beautiful, and so haunting. [The play] re-imagines Chekhov’s short stories, bringing in contemporary elements to heighten our sense of yearning, but never strays too far from the author’s 19th-century Russia.”
The performance piece combines dialogue and movement with many surprising video elements, such as footage from a surveillance camera, cast interviews and an instructional hunting video.
So how do all these disparate elements in this experimental piece shed new light on two century-old tales of love and loss?
“I think an original story about love, or unrequited love for that matter, has less to do with gaining a new perspective on our attempts to truly connect with another person, and more to do with the intricately woven details of two lives colliding against each other,” Franzen said.
“Man in a Case” centers on an uptight man who, trying to woo a spirited young lady, must confront his own shortcomings. “About Love,” the other short story incorporated into the show, tells the story of a man who regrets failing to express his love to a married woman.
Given his stellar dance history, it’s no surprise that Baryshnikov — known to his intimates as “Misha” — has been said to inhabit his characters with a rare physical, kinetic energy that adds layers to his performance on stage and on screen.
“What is interesting about Misha in this work, and what I love about how he challenges himself as an artist, is that he plays these characters who are so tightly confined, either by society or their own emotional limitation, that they can never truly love. How that translates physically to his characters: with short, controlled movement and dialogue — and this is a man who can move — lends to so much emotional texture when they do, occasionally, break free of themselves,” Franzen said.
Baryshnikov, who was first exposed to Chekhov and “Man in a Case” while growing up in Latvia under Soviet rule, starred in the theatrical production “In Paris” two years ago at The Broad.
While best known for his stunning ballet career and as artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre, Baryshnikov was introduced to younger audiences as Carrie’s love interest, Aleksander Petrovsky, on HBO’s “Sex and the City.”
Now 66, does Misha still have what it takes to make women swoon?
“An intelligent, inquisitive man who still dances? How can he not be sexy!” Franzen said.
“Man in a Case” opens at 7:30 p.m. tonight at The Broad Stage and continues through May 10 at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. The show runs 75 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $87 to $137. For future performance dates and ticket prices, call (310) 434-3200 or visit thebroadstage.com.