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Published: Monday, 7/9/2007

Baryshnikov thrills, but program uneven


ANN ARBOR - Dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov at 60 still has a dancer's chops: marvelous timing, fluid control over a lithe body, and that inimitable ability to squeeze maximal impact out of minimal gesture.

Baryshnikov and his fledgling company, Hell's Kitchen Dance, thrilled two sold-out houses over the weekend at the University of Michigan Power Center here.

In one sense, it was all about Misha. He performed as soloist, as part of a trio, and in his 12-member company on the two-hour program, all works created at his behest through his foundation.

Baryshnikov for nearly two decades has wielded his star power like a magic wand, encouraging, challenging, and rewarding choreographers to reach beyond the classical world from which he arose.

Two of the pieces worked; one left much to be desired.

The best was left to close the show: Aszure Barton's eloquent work "Come In," set to the elegiac score by contemporary Russian composer Vladimir Martynov, with some projected images on the backdrop.

Created with strong diagonal emphasis, Barton's piece is angular without being sharp and explores the dynamic interaction between corps and soloist. Convergence and divergence in myriad combinations between soloist and company united the six movements.

As soloist, Barton gave good account, as did Baryshnikov and several others, with parts apparently crafted to order. That is, for the younger male dancers she called for exaggerated leaps and bends emphasizing their power, while for Baryshnikov the passages were far more subtle, although still including some rather impressive leaps and spins.

Although Barton's piece suffered from some unevenness, in general it was a bold and intelligent exploration of the human body as instrument for the choreographer's vision and a moving commentary on contemporary life.

The evening opened with Baryshnikov alone on stage in French composer Benjamin Millepied's witty and personal work "Years Later." Set to music by Philip Glass and Erik Satie, the work was gestural and introspective, a now-and-then look at Baryshnikov's career. Archival footage of a young Misha practicing leaps and turns in a studio drew the live dancer to interact with the screen image, at times joined by his shadow. It was brief and charming.

Less so was the second work in the first half - Donna Uchizono's 2006 "Leap to Tall," for Baryshnikov, Hristoula Haraka, and Jodi Melnick. Baryshnikov's role seemed to be as object for the women, who danced around him and even performed several lifts.

Yet what seemed filled with potential early on failed to develop and raised more questions than it could answer.

Contact Sally Vallongo at svallongo@theblade.com.

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