Mikhail Baryshnikov has become such a familiar presence in New York’s cultural world that it’s easy to take him for granted. He is one of the great ballet dancers of all time, has shown his acting chops, conquered modern dance (and continues to), and has become an impresario with the opening of the Baryshnikov Arts Center. And now he has published a book of photographs of Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
Conventional dance photography is somewhat perverse in that it aims to freeze movement completely rather than capture it. Blurry shots are usually rejected in favor of crisp stills. But Baryshnikov was inspired by old photography books to capture motion as an integral part of dance. Shooting with a digital camera, he himself moved, sometimes running while shooting. So the performers’ motion combines with Baryshnikov’s own, in a way implicating him in the performance shot.
Baryshnikov mentions that Cunningham’s work, with his particular use of space, is well-suited to photograph. Cunningham uses stasis frequently, alternating with rapid sequences of big movement. Many of the photographs reflect these two states, conveying the texture of the choreography. The photos, accompanied only by a brief introductory note from Baryshnikov, are more poetry than reportage, but that makes sense given this artist’s Russian soul
Susan Yung is a New York-based writer specializing in dance and art.