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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

CAST: Mikhail Baryshnikov (Belikov), Tymberly Canale (Barbara), Chris Giarmo (Ivan), Paul Lazar (Burkin), Aaron Mattocks (Kovalenko); Additional onstage appearance by Tei Blow, Keith Skretch

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

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.

Each member of the cast is a double or triple threat; Giarmo is also the Music Director, and he plays the accordion and sings hauntingly. In addition to acting, Mattocks and Canale both sing and dance, and Lazar takes his own direction well. Although they don't have speaking parts, Sound Designer Tei Blow and Associate Video Designer Keith Skretch are both seated onstage to perform their tasks. The stories nearly take a back seat to the methods used by Lazar, Parson, and the design team of Peter Ksander (set), Jennifer Tipton (lighting), Blow (sound), Jeff Larson (video), and Oana Botez (costume). Big Dance Theater is known for experimental dance and most of the choreography you see here defies classification. There is some folk dance, as they use traditional Russian music as well as some contemporary music (it is surprising to hear Carly Simon's "Coming Around Again" in one scene, which also features a disco ball). Video projections play a vital role, including surveillance footage in Belikov's apartment, and a variety of sound and lighting effects enhance the entire production.

Fusing theater, dance, music, and video, Man in a Case is an unusual entertainment, something that is difficult to describe and has to be seen to be appreciated. At the least, it is an example of thinking outside of the box and an opportunity to see one of the world's greatest dancers onstage; at best, it is an opportunity to see that one of the world's greatest dancers has many more tricks up his tights and that his fluid movements have not abandoned him. Whether he's dancing or acting, Mr. Baryshnikov's performance is a full-body experience: heart, head, and feet fully engaged. I'm glad I went.

Photo credit: T. Charles Erickson (Tymberly Canale, Mikhail Baryshnikov)

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From This Author Nancy Grossman