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"BRODSKY/BARYSHNIKOV" By Michael WIERSING SUDAU

14.09.2018

"BRODSKY/BARYSHNIKOV" 
at the Tbilisi International Theatre Festival. By Michael WIERSING SUDAU.

There is very little doubt that Mikhail Baryshnikov is the star of the Tbilisi International Theatre Festival, which opened yesterday night. Even if every theatre company visiting the festival deserves the right to have its work admired, Baryshnikov's one-man performance is in the spotlight, with three sold-out nights. The whole production is special in so many ways - Baryshnikov, a Russian born in Latvia, who fled to the USA in 1974 and living there ever since, is performing in Russian language modern poetry and statements of Joseph Brodsky, a Leningrad-born writer who in 1972 was expelled from the SU and settled, similar to Baryshnikov, in New York. Plus it is the only performance in Russian language during the festival, produced by a theatre in Riga, Latvia's capital.
One-man poetry-performances are always demanding - less for the actor than for the audience. In a decor reminding of an 1970s small railway station hall or, alternatively, a formerly elegant garden conservatory, Baryshnikov presents a wealth of works by the poet, who died in 1996. This is, obviously, not a real theatre-play developing, but rather an introduction to the writings of Brodsky. Those follow each other with speed, making it difficult to appreciate or to even enjoy the atmosphere they are recreating for any longer than the moment their performances take. Baryshnikov's quality of performance is hard to appreciate, as he prefers to put all the emphasis on the written work itself. He does, though, give an example of his work as a actor-dancer by showing the bodily decline of an old aged man. Having said that the actor Baryshnikov at times looked rather tired, too, even after the end of the show. If this was the idea of the director of the performance, or was the result of too little sleep and a busy schedule, no-one knows. 
Unsurprisingly, most of the Brodsky works represented are full of nostalgia and melancholy; there are few exclusively witty pieces to indulge in. The audience itself is split between ladies and some gentlemen dressed up elegantly, and many, not only young people just in T-Shirts and blue jeans. Whereas the elderly may know Baryshnikov from the past, one may wonder if students in their 20s have actually ever heard of him before. What these young people - and some small children who have arrived with their parents - really take with them home after leaving the theatre, one can only guess; clearly Brodsky's writings and his performer are speaking to them from a whole different era in history. Anyway - Baryshnikov is not obliged to produce himself only for an audience of young people. One of the biggest achievements of this performance is clearly to make the audience concentrate on the sheer wording of the poems, and nothing else. For once, in a world of increasingly noisy theatre productions and noisy theatre audiences the performance by Baryshnikov achieves to make the whole theatre to be just silent and to listen.

Michael WIERSING SUDAU,
Detmold, Germany