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“I respect process more than I actually like to perform,” he says.“When you start to perform, it starts the gipsy life. You wake up in the morning and the nerves are starting. I love it when I am performing but I don’t like those nerves.“Being a classical dancer, there was a certain moment in my early 30s, when I realised if I didn’t do experimental work and just preserved my body, I could have danced Giselle until I was probably 50 years old.” For some dancers, he says, that would have been a fulfilling life. Although he excelled in works such as Apollo and The Prodigal Son, critics felt he never quite mastered Balanchine’s idiosyncratic neoclassicism.Which makes it all the more surprising when he says that “New York City Ballet Company is still much more my home than American Ballet Theatre.” Since he ran ABT from 1980 to 1989 that is quite an admission.“And he was in a hot bath, drinking tea, looking like that famous painting The Death of Marat. I had a great time dancing with Natalia Markarova and Gelsey Kirkland – that kept me going the last few years on the classical scene – but they were partnered much better by other people. It was too busy.” Despite such differences, the two men were close.I said, ‘Rudolf, you look like a dead old woman,’ and he is laughing. And then he got up to go to the evening performance, and do the same piece with another ballerina. You have to love it.’” The two men had their differences, partly because Baryshnikov did not like dancing in Nureyev’s productions of classics such as Raymonda. “I said when he died that he had the charisma, the earthiness of a simple man and the real arrogance of God.
“Rudi went dancing on and on, he wanted to be on stage, every day, no matter what.’’ He remembers a moment, late in Nureyev’s dancing career, when he visited him at his hotel between two performances of Sleeping Beauty.
His career has been marked by his remarkable, restless, intelligence.
The piece is an adaptation of The Old Woman, a short story by the dissident Russian writer Daniil Kharms, an early surrealist and absurdist who was arrested for treason under Stalin in 1941 and died in a psychiatric ward the following year, probably of starvation.
It was an idea that started small and lasted for 12 years. But what drives him to maintain the discipline of a daily routine that enables him to perform?
“I want to keep my sense of connection to the audience,” he says.
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“Not that I am, at the age of 65, going to dance.” He semi-sings the words, and waves his hands. ” Baryshnikov’s continued desire to perform springs from the same source it always has: his love of the act of creation.