Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Video: Baryshnikov Dances as "Vestris"

Friday, September 27, 2013

Isabella reporting,

This week I've been mildly obsessed with the great 18th c. father and son dancers Gaeton and Auguste Vestris, writing about them here and here. (And yes, after going off on this true Nerdy History Girl tangent, I can pretty much guarantee that a fictionalized version of the family will be turning up soon in one of my books.) One of our Anonymous commenters wrote that it was a shame that we had no video of Auguste, so that we could enjoy his dancing today.

Obviously, there isn't any video from 1781. However, I did discover a performance by one of the modern era's greatest dancers, Mikhail Baryshnikov, dancing in a style inspired by Auguste Vestris. This video itself almost qualifies as historical: it dates from 1969 when Baryshnikov was only 21 - the same age as Vestris when he took London by storm in 1781.

I believe the video is from Russian television. It begins with a brief segment entirely in Russian, showing Baryshnikov working with the ballet's choreographer, Leonid Jakobson, to develop characterization. I don't begin to understand what is being said (and if anyone out there does, please let me know!) but it's still fascinating to watch. The Vestris ballet was first presented at the International Dance Competition in Moscow; Baryshnikov earned a gold medal for his performance. The entire ballet follows at approximately 2:25 if you want to skip ahead.

Auguste Vestris was an innovator in several ways. He was one of the first dancers to rely on his own facial expressions instead of a mask, and amazed audiences by how swiftly he could change from one character to the next. Baryshnikov does this as well, and it's astonishing. Vestris was also famous for the athleticism of his leaps and spins, another talent that Baryshnikov shares. Most of all, both dancers delighted their audiences with their performances. I hope you enjoy this, too.

8 comments:

LaDonna said...

Misha, Misha! Such an awesomely beautiful man! <3

Caro Carson said...

Thank you so very much. Your blog is always interesting, educational, entertaining. Today's entry, though, was a chance to see genius in action. Like many ballet fans, I knew Baryshnikov won the gold medal before defecting, but I never knew which piece he danced for it--and I certainly had never seen the actual performance. Thank you!

Emma J said...

If August Vestris danced anything like Baryshnikov, then I can totally understand why he was so popular. Wouldn't it be amazing if you could time-travel them together for a duet?

Always Trista said...

Thank you for making my day with this blog! I was one of that whole generation of little girls in ballet classes that were madly in love with Misha. Watching this makes me think I might still be too, heehee.

Anonymous said...

Watching this reminded me of a movie with TWO incredible dance sequences -- both Baryshnikov -- White Nights, with Gregory Hines. The movie begins with a performance of -- I believe it's Death Comes for the Young Man -- astonishing in the absolute power and grace (He could have been an Olympic gymnast, too, I think!). Later in the movie, he and Hines do a "dance duel" that is amazing in yet a different way. I've ruined my VHS tape fast-forwarding betwen the two ...

Cassandra Samuels said...

Can I just say - sublime buttocks!

Graham said...

I admire Baryshnikov, but I find this, as a reconstruction of choreography from the period, unlikely...plus you must have noticed that Vestris (father or son) wore respectable breeches rather than shocking leotards, which I think did not gain acceptance as sufficient dance costume for men until the 20th century.

britcellist said...

Fascinating story, plus the added bonus of the video of brilliant Baryshkinov. What a find­čÖé Watching it made me realize what a star he had been and is very much missed. Thank you for this, a great way to wake up to on a Monday morning!

 
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