In Paris is a play by Russian director Dmitry Krymov. The production with main actor Mikhail Baryshnikov came to the Municipal Theatre of Groningen at the Noorderzon festival in 2011.
In Paris by Dmitry Krymov
‘Paris in the thirties of the last century. A Russian general – played by world renowned dancer and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov – meets a beautiful much younger woman (played by Anna Sinyakina) by chance in a restaurant. They fall head over heels in love, but unfortunately they are granted but little time.’
As the train was moving away from the central Randstad-area you could mentally prepare for Russian spheres: the steppes of Drenthe and Groningen, a provincial capital with a different population and a theatre that would look well in St. Petersburg. In the Municipal Theatre of Groningen, a selection of the best of Russian theatre and performers will be on stage.
Director Dmitry Krymov loves simplicity: an empty stage, the curtain is open, the audience chats and on stage stands a man who ruled the entire dance world for decades: Mikhail Baryshnikov. He is now in his sixties, short of stature, looks stylish and is speaking French (later on Russian). In Paris is the name of the show based on the book by Ivan Boenin.
From a side balcony co-star Anna Sinyakina climbs on stage with a large canvas of the Notre-Dame cathedral. It appears suddenly to be a large postcard. The play and the director’s brain are full of inventions to surprise the audience. When the lights go out subtitles are projected attractively and effectively across the stage on floor and backdrop and it looks like the show has really started.
We won’t get to see much dancing. The play is about loneliness, pain and resignation caused by choices (or the absence thereof), and things that may happen in life such as a partner who leaves you for someone else. Baryshnikov is charismatic and impressive in an army coat and plays a Russian general with ease and confidence: he knows about victories, admiration and the fading away of great events. His acting is very skilled and allows you to forget that you are watching an ex-dancer at work. The few dance steps that we did get to see are set by choreographer / artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, Alexei Ratmansky and seems to pay a small tribute to the past of the actor. But sadness prevails because the general has no friends and ‘acquaintances are a poor consolation.’ The overall stage set is therefore covered in black or dark tones.
Only when there is light coming from of a match or flashlights during a rainy Parisian night, is there any color and warmth. There are pinpricks of what seems to be Jewish humor, (‘the weapon of the defeated man, who in no way is thinking of the possibility of victory’, Freud) and Baryshnikov himself sometimes has boyish expressions that are reminiscent of slapstick movies. It wasn’t strange that at one point footage was shown of Charlie Chaplin as an illustration of brief love. Catching was a partition on a rotating platform that passed by silently while showing the actors behind it as if this was not the intention.
There was beautiful and pure a cappella singing or a whistling one-man band with bottles. Intimacy emerged when the general declared his years of longing for that one moment of love or all encompassing amorous encounter. Although that desire was shared (in words) by the beautiful and excellent acting Anna it died in beauty with the sudden death of the charming general. Everyone experiences such desire at least once during his life and the cliché ‘better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’ is appropriate to some extent. The un-Dutch but typically Russian – and less sober – melancholy touches you. The audience had to recognize that a memorable performance had ended and during the second bow the applause and cheers grew louder. In Paris will soon travel to: Paris. It isn’t hard to imagine that this piece will truly come into its own when put on there.
(August 2011, Ruben Brugman)
Mikhail Baryshnikov allowed Danspubliek a filmed interview. Altin Kaftira, film maker at the Dutch National Ballet, gladly seized the opportunity to film his dance hero.