At 48, Mikhail Baryshnikov is still enjoying the ride


"I never thought I would dance for so long," said Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Mr. Baryshnikov, 48, remains one of the most extraordinary dancers of this century. He continues to receive high praise for his dancing, as he has done since he was an 18-year-old living in Russia.

"Encouragement from Merce [Cunningham] and Martha Graham, even Mark [Morris] and Twyla [Tharp] and Paul Taylor gave me a new life," he said recently.

Unlike Rudolf Nureyev, another great 20th-century Russian dancer who danced classical roles deep into middle age with depressing results, Mr. Baryshnikov knew when the days of white tights and leading romantic roles in ballet were over. He then switched to modern dance.

His principal vehicle has been the White Oak Dance Project, which he founded in 1989 with Mr. Morris. The free-floating company, which lives solely on box-office receipts, comprises only senior dancers who are former members of prestigious modern dance companies. The group has toured the world with its eclectic repertory.

"We never plan ahead more than four to five months because I hate to tie myself up with obligations I may be unable to fulfill," Mr. Baryshnikov said. "My views of work keep changing."

As artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre in the 1980s, Mr. Baryshnikov had his fill of problems plaguing American dance companies. Now, the pressure is off.

"I want to do work that is important for me, and hopefully for the audience," he said.

And what about retirement?

"White Oak might mutate to something else, and I would be involved in that," Mr. Baryshnikov said. "Maybe I will drift backstage to begin a choreographic laboratory. If I stop dancing tomorrow, it will be just fine. I've done it. I'll be a big boy and not cry."

Pub Date: 4/14/96

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