Baryshnikov Behind the Camera

Mikhail Baryshnikov.jpg

Surely one of the best parts of Sex and the City was dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov‘s graceful turn as one Aleksandr Petrovsky, a brooding global art star whose living space had us convinced that he was an architect in disguise. Meanwhile, Baryshnikov hasn’t stopped multi-tasking. Tuesday saw the opening of an exhibition of his photographs of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company at 401 Projects, the cozy New York gallery owned by photographer Mark Seliger.

Baryshnikov has been taking pictures–landscapes, portraits, travel shots–for 20 years, but this is the first time that he’s turned his camera on the world of dance, something he knows a little something about. “I made a point of rejecting obvious opportunities to photograph dance, thinking the results were boring and unnecessary,” he says. An epiphany came as he paged through old books of dance photography, particularly Alexey Brodovitch‘s 1945 Ballet and Paul Himmel‘s 1954 Ballet in Action. “I discovered that abandoning the crystalline image in favor of blurred edges approximates the excitement of dance in performance.”

Newly inspired, he swapped his 35mm for a digital camera and set out to photograph social dancing in the Dominican Republic and then moved on to shoot the work of Cunningham, “as an homage to one of the greatest choreographers of our time.” And its not the final performances that most interest Baryshnikov. The simultaneously graphic and ethereal images on view (through May 4) at 401 Projects were all taken at dress rehearsals. Explains Baryshnikov, “The dress rehearsal, that fragile hour between the long days in the studio and the premiere, is the dancer’s last chance to get it right.”