BWW Review: Baryshnikov Has All the Right Moves
Man in a Case
Adapted from two short stories by Anton Chekhov: Man in a Case and About Love; Adapted & Directed by Paul Lazar & Annie-B Parson/Big Dance Theater; Choreographed by Annie-B Parson; Set Designer, Peter Ksander; Costume Designer, Oana Botez; Lighting Designer, Jennifer Tipton; Sound Designer, Tei Blow; Video Designer, Jeff Larson; Associate Video Designer, Keith Skretch; Music Director, Chris Giarmo; Production Stage Manager, Brendan Regimbal; Produced by Baryshnikov Productions
Performances through March 2 by ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage at Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre, 219 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-824-8400 or www.artsemerson.org
On opening night, an appreciative audience rose to applaud at the conclusion of ArtsEmerson's Man in a Case, luring Mikhail Baryshnikov and the entire cast back onstage at least three times. It was as if they believed they could turn back the clock and will him to perform a grand jeté or a series of fouetté turns. Alas, it was not to be, as the great dancer has turned his focus to theater acting, but to suggest a paraphrase: You can take the dancer out of the ballet, but you cannot take the ballet out of the dancer. Even in a straight play, the man still has all the right moves.
Produced by Baryshnikov Productions, Man in a Case is an adaptation of two short stories by Anton Chekhov: Man in a Case and About Love. Baryshnikov collaborated with Paul Lazar and Annie-B Parson, co-artistic directors of Big Dance Theater, on the project which was commissioned by Hartford Stage Company and premiered there on March 1, 2013. Lazar and Parson adapted and directed, and Parson also choreographed Man, a 75-minute multi-media piece which has sold out its Boston run (except for a limited number of obstructed view seats).
The two stories are part of a trilogy that the Russian author published in 1898 and could best be described as anti-love stories. In the first, two hunters Burkin (Lazar) and Ivan (Chris Giarmo) are sleeping over in a friend's barn and telling each other stories. The man of the title is the village's former Greek teacher Belikov (Baryshnikov), an eccentric who wears galoshes and carries an umbrella in a case at all times, regardless of the weather. He also likes to wrap himself in a case, metaphorically speaking, shutting himself off from life "lest something unfortunate come of it." When a new woman (Tymberly Canale) arrives in town with her brother (Aaron Mattocks) from the Ukraine, the locals think it's a good idea to set her up with Belikov and it goes downhill from there.
In About Love, Baryshnikov plays Alekhin, a friend of the hunters who relates his story of falling in love with a married woman and being unable to share his feelings with her until it is too late. Typical of Chekhov, both stories feature characters who represent common men and women dealing with the human condition, some more successfully than others, and are a mix of comedy and tragedy. Baryshnikov smoothly transitions from the stiff, uptight Belikov (who does not wish to be drawn into a dance) into the more social Alekhin. As the latter, he thrills the audience with about thirty seconds of exquisite, jazzy dancing to a recording of "St. Louis Blues," and also shares a pas de deux evocative of a minuet with Canale as his love interest, Anna. When the couple is forced to part, they lie on the floor and participate in a series of side by side poses which, when projected on an upstage screen, create a stunning display that makes them appear to be dancing on a vertical wall.