For two months in the Bulgarian media (except for the television stations, which do not know why they passed the big event), a lot of things were written about the visit of Mikhail Baryshnikov to our country. Naturally, popular facts were retold, retold over and over again by unknown or little-known authors. The peak was in the days of his visit, when artists and journalists shared opinions on social networks.


Another strange fact is that (as announced) Baryshnikov did not give a press conference, but the claim that journalists would not be admitted was not true. There were journalists, as well as theater and ballet artists - obviously elected individuals. It was impossible for the average person to meet the talented ballet dancer and get an autograph, as it should. The organizers of the event did their best to isolate the artist and distance him from the audience. Also impressed was the high ticket price, more appropriate for the Metropolitan New York than for the Sofia Opera. Compared to the average monthly salary for the country, the puzzlement gets even bigger, but that's not the topic of the material.

Mikhail Baryshnikov

Photographer: Max Waldman

After the comments and reviews of celebrities, it's time to really talk about the show. To the untrained eye, he would find it incomprehensible, strange and difficult to understand. And so, because the show has many doors, all locked, and the keys must be searched in all sorts of places - in the knowledge of Brodsky's poems, in his biography, and especially in the sense embedded in the words and expressions used in the texts who very often stand apart from the context and out of place. It is the understanding of Brodsky's additional, personal meaning that enables a complete understanding of the context of the poems.


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It is no accident that quite a few people left the hall without understanding this spectacle and this art. And those who stayed made it more of a desire to watch the big star live - this extraordinary event for the capital's cultural calendar, as announced - than by the cathartic feeling that remains in the end. Of course, the Bulgarian audience is more aware of the ballet dancer's participation in the cult series Sex and the City than the perfection of his pirouettes and allegons, which is the real reason for his great success, along with the luck and courage to escape from one a country that destroys its artists. Even those who saw him in his prime years on the stage of classical ballet can hardly make a significant difference between him and the current Polunin, for example. Knowledge of Baryshnikov's biography is important, but not necessary, except for the interpretation of his motives for creating this spectacle. More important is the knowledge of Joseph Brodsky's life, because he is the topic of the show.


Brodsky often said, "Don't judge me by my biography, but by my poems." But his biography is important so that the viewer can make the necessary associations with the paintings in the poems and understand them in their entirety, as well as the performance itself. Thanks to this visit, many people became acquainted, as far as possible with only one performance, with Brodsky's work, others rediscovered it. But whether they made those parallels embedded in every subject, every word and every movement on the stage is unclear.


Let's start with the set design. Extremely pure, radiating the coolness and loneliness that Brodsky himself has sought throughout his life. This deliberate exclusion from the world that Brodsky needed and preferred even at his birthdays, when for no apparent reason he left the table, home and guests and rushed outside, feeling the atmosphere too intimate. This loneliness is strongly present in his poems, where the Self is depicted in an isolated personal space, separated from the world of people - on a coffee table, in a faceless hotel room, on a bench in a city garden. Loneliness is both something that he fears, and at the same time a necessary condition for you to meet with yourself, to create.


Why Winter Garden? An acquaintance with Brodsky's biography, he would immediately draw a parallel with the summer garden in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), located not far from Panteleimonovskaya Street, Brodsky's "native" street. Pushkin also lived there, often walking the bathrobe and slippers in the summer garden, reading books and writing, calling her his yard - he felt at home in it. Joseph grew up there and remembers it over the years.


In the show, the summer garden turns into winter, illustrating rather the closeness and loneliness of poor living in the village of Norenskaya - the Arkhangelsk region, where Joseph spends one year after being forced out of Leningrad because of the 1964 case. He is accused of tweaking, ie. that there is no official job, and instead of working, he writes poems. In Norenskaya he is forced to find work and livelihood alone. He became a rat, doing heavy physical work in a field that did not bother him, as we know, as early as 15 he left school and began work at the nearby Arsenal plant.

Joseph-Brodsky Last Morning in Russia / 1972

Brodsky, with the help of his American friends, escaped to the US in 1972. He never returns and regrets the decision. At home, he is subjected to repression. He was twice sent to psychiatric institutions, accused of social parasitism in 1964 and sentenced to 5 years (from which he spent 18 months in prison). 

Accustomed to working as a toddler, he does not experience hard work. He was not particularly worried about the primacy of the new life - he had to split wood, pour water from the well, read and write on candles. What gave him no peace was the ban on leaving the area. From there to Leningrad can be reached in a day. Brodsky was allowed to visit Leningrad 3 times during his stay, only for a few days. The difficulty to find a place comes from his separation with M. Basmanova. Right there, in one of her visits, for which she had special permission, Brodsky understands Basmanova's infidelity with Bobishev, who comes to pick her up.


But there, in the silence of that lonely and remote house in the Arkhangelsk region, thanks to the books he took to read, he reaches the ultimate insight into the greatness of poetry and assumes his moral duty to write well. It is no coincidence that the stage is attended by books in the middle of the empty room, as the only requisite, along with the bottle, clock, suitcase and tape recorder. The show begins in silence because poetry is always born in silence, even when the verses scream. During that period, Brodsky discovered that the most important thing for the poet was to follow his intuition only. To look at oneself not by contrasting with others, but by distinguishing oneself, allowing everything on the leaf to be authentic, at the risk of becoming banal, of looking malicious or of being misunderstood. According to him, no one, even the most exalted rules, can be law.


He has his own rules, one of which is to be independent. As he himself writes, "the ark will equal us all. / As long as we are alive - to be different! ”Another important insight of Joseph of this period is that poetry feeds on suffering. Great poetry is invariably linked to him, and he gratefully remembers the grief because they are the cause of the great, true art to be born. And when Joseph's voice sounds, shaking the declaring Michael, it is the inner voice that appears to the poet in silence, the instant insight of poetry, the debt to the language that every writer owes.


The sense of lack of script and choreography complement this proscenium in which we wander and in which time is stretched as if there is no beginning and end point, not even a direction, and as a dream come the memories of the poet's life, childhood memories, from his father's travels and stories about China. Fragments of one being that are not logically related, as it would be in a biographical book, but are scattered like biographical glare in verses. Every sound in the show means something. Music is prayer, the song of crickets makes her loneliness physically audible


at that hour it came to my hearing
not yet music, but no longer noise.

This empty room is also the Buckle, a psychiatric clinic in which Brodsky lies briefly in order to escape prison. This winter garden combines beautiful childhood summers, loneliness at Norenskaya and the madness at the clinic where Joseph is bathed in ice water and then left wrapped in wet sheets next to the radiator to dry and cut into his flesh.


In the suitcase on the stage is Brodsky's entire life, the written leaves - his biography in the form of metric text. The clock is also not present by accident. Time plays an essential role in the poetry of the Russian Jew. Man is composed of time, space, and spirit, which must be present in the verse in order to cover the metaphysics of human existence. "For me, space is really less and less expensive than time. Not that it is insignificant, but that it is a thing while time is a thought for the thing, ”Brodsky says.


The clock counts not so much its own time on earth as the meaning that gives the time distance to each text. And most importantly, for him, the word stands above time because it stores it in the pages written. "Isn't the word a storehouse of time? And is that not the reason why time taps it? ”He wonders. And really, what would we have known about the weather and those before us if it weren't for the chroniclers to formulate that time and give it gardens ...


The sound image of Oleg Novikov comes from a distance, from the same distance of time, as if from memories, increasing distance and contemplation. Music is also a movement in poetry. The metric of verse is the rhythm of life, the rhythm of time, which is always syncretic, because it brings together in itself the real life in life, the physical dimension of life, and the spiritual - that which is the fruit of thought, of imagination, and which is sometimes - strongly experienced in real life. The prosody of the verse carries that personality that is deliberately sought after by the author and which is most strongly felt in the works of his late period in the USA, and especially in the poems "The End of a Wonderful Age" and "Part of Speech". It is important for the play to the extent that it carries the inner charge and sets the intonation with which Brodsky's poems are to be uttered. Sometimes sounding like a confession, other times like a siren of anxiety, the poems convey as a hologram above all the personality of the poet, his inner self, and what constituted his thoughts and feelings.

Joseph and Mary (wife)

The performance can be slow, monotonous, almost meditative, with almost no changes. Started in silence, it ends in silence, in that separation from the world and people, with the symbolic "building up" of the door of the garden and of life. All that remains is death or ... leaving.

Joseph Brodsky and Mikhail Barishnikov

(with his wife and child)

Why exactly Baryshnikov? What are his motives for making this performance? It's a kind of worship of talent, but not only. In fact, no one else could have done it, no one could have played Brodsky's poems if he had not been part of the Leningrad Bohemia at that time, if he had not been a refugee, had not suffered for his freedom and for his beliefs, was neither Russian nor foreign among himself - alone among them. Baryshnikov has all these advantages, as well as being congenial - related to Brodsky. And in this garden, they seem to meet and live on stage.

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