Baryshnikov performs the poems of Joseph Brodsky at Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre
When I saw that I had the opportunity to see the ballet dancer Baryshnikov, I jumped at the chance, thinking I’d be seeing spins and pliés. That wasn’t the case. This show at The Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto is a quiet, poetic performance that has only a minor dance element. BRODSKY / BARYSHNIKOV is Baryshnikov’s Russian-language tribute to his Nobel prize-winning poet friend Joseph Brodsky.
Visually the setting is gloomy and monochromatic with no pops of colour. The central piece on the stage is an art nouveau style glass structure that could be a veranda or sunroom. Baryshnikov either performs the poems from inside the room or in front on the benches, wearing various layers of clothing.
The melancholy is supported by the sounds of a faraway choir and nocturnal insects. For me these distant sounds add to the feeling of loneliness and remoteness. Electrical charges also play a role in creating a feeling of being troubled. The sparks and flickering lights add uncertainty; I found myself frowning and worried during these moments.
While Brodsky’s poems address exile and loneliness, the theme that stood out for me the most was the theme about aging. While I wish I could quote some lines, I cannot remember the words. I only remember feeling sorrowful about approaching the end of life.
Brodsky’s poems are either read aloud by Baryshnikov or played as an audio recording. The imagery is powerful thanks to the sensitive translation by Jamey Gabrell. The poem about a black stallion with no saddle that was looking for a rider was memorable for me. The sound of first hoof made my Baryshnikov’s feet as well as his graceful movements made this moment captivating. That being said, Baryshnikov doesn’t literally perform the poems; I would say that he evokes them.
Audience members who understand Russian will surely appreciate BRODSKY / BARYSHNIKOV much, much more than I did. I found that the surtitles in English that were near the top of the glass room were simply too high. My eyes could not travel up and down from the surtitles to the Baryshnikov fast enough. I felt that I was either missing Brodsky’s poems or Baryshnikov’s expressive movements. This was a loss for me as a spectator.
If you want laugh out loud entertainment, do not see BRODSKY / BARYSHNIKOV. If you want to see a poignant tribute to a Russian poet, get your tickets quickly since performances may be sold out by now.
- BRODSKY / BARYSHNIKOV is playing at The Winter Garden Theatre (189 Yonge St.)
- Showtimes are Saturday, January 27, 2018 at 8 PM and Sunday, January 28, 2018 at 3 PM
- Ticket prices range from $95 to $150
- Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 1-855-599-9090 or in person at the Box Office
Photo of Mikhail Baryshnikov by Janis Deinats