LOVING “BAC” – THE BARYSHNIKOV ARTS CENTER

31 Jan

I always love going to the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Located in New York City’s “Hell’s Kitchen” on West 37thStreet, BAC is an unassuming place. In what appears to be a renovated warehouse, the Center houses studio spaces, offices, and the intimate 238-seat Jerome Robbins Theater which opened just two years ago.

Jerome Robbins Theater at BAC

Presentations at BAC are not big tourist attractions, mass market or often even mainstream. The cost to attend is minimal – typically $25-30 a ticket (depending on the production), and sometimes even less, with many offerings completely free of charge.

The programming line-up varies from dance and performance art to film and experimental theater. The Center opened in 2005, “to house the core activities of the Baryshnikov Dance Foundation,” according to the Center’s website. The New York Times summed it up best by calling BAC, “a laboratory and performance space for multidisciplinary artists.” Perfect.

The first time I attended a performance at BAC, almost two years ago, I picked up the evening’s tickets at the “will call desk” – a teenager sitting at a folding table with pink slips of paper (“tickets”) in a shoebox. After pick up, I was directed to a freight elevator which took me up to The Jerome Robbins Theater – the Met it was not.

Since then things have changed – the elevator is no longer freight, the tickets are “real” tickets, and the “will call desk” is sturdier, now a real desk, with tickets held in an upgraded tin box!

Back in May, 2010 I was lucky enough to attend a BAC production of “Unrelated Solos,” a mixed bill featuring three male dancers, five choreographers and six solos. Mr. Baryshnikov was in three of the solos – a piece by Benjamin Millepied, another by Alexei Ratmansky, and finally a “work in progress” by Susan Marshall. The last time I had seen Baryshnikov dance was at the The Metropolitan Opera House, so long ago, when he was a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre. (The Opera House has 3,800 seats, so seeing him in the tiny Jerome Robbins Theater that night was exciting).

The up close and personal performance took my breath away. Baryshnikov, now older and less agile, nonetheless moved with expressiveness, elegance and grace. One of the highlights for me was the Marshall piece, “For You,” which included Baryshnikov selecting audience members to come onto the stage where he sat them in folding chairs and danced independently for each of them. Why, oh why was I in the second row?? If I were only in the first row, maybe he would have selected me!

UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW AT BAC

Last Wednesday night I was back to see Young Jean Lee’s “UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW,” presented by Baryshnikov Arts Center and Performance Space 122 as part of the 2012 COIL Festival. The performance featured six female dancers who with choreography and music, mime and sound, addressed the female experience. The stage was bare white, projections were beamed overhead, and the cast was completely, totally, NAKED! Not only were they naked, but they were of every size and body shape.

The premise, according to Lee, was to create “a fluid sense of gender… a world in which people could identify and be however they wanted regardless of their sex.” She said her concept of uninterrupted nudity was “far from being shocking or titillating… it prevented the audience from imposing identities on the cast and allowed them to experience all the possibilities the performers could embody.”

In his review of UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW, Charles Isherwood of the New York Times addressed the show’s nudity by saying there was “certainly something celebratory about the performers’ carefree attitude toward their bodies and the joyful abandon of their movement… but nudity is hardly extraordinary in modern dance, or theater for that matter…”.

Young Jean Lee explains her craft - YouTube

That’s true, but somehow, this show did seem extraordinary. Was it the intimacy of the theater? The shapes and sizes of the performers? The message they tried to convey? I really can’t be sure. But including this show in the BAC lineup is what makes the Center fun and different – their mission to present emerging talent is what makes things special.

Mr. Baryshnikov recently donated his personal artwork to the Center, which in turn auctioned it to raise funds to benefit new programs. I can’t think of a better reason for the auction than Mr. Baryshnikov gave himself – he was “using old art to generate new art.”

BAC helps to produce new art indeed! I believe their mission is heartfelt and a stellar showcase for what’s new and thought provoking – it’s a great venue. Get there!

Baryshnikov Arts Center – 450 west 37th st bt. 9th and 10th Avenues; http://www.bacnyc.org

Untitled Feminist Show has been extended until Feb. 4

The Jerome Robbins Theater is home to The Wooster Group, the Center’s resident theater company.

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One Response to “LOVING “BAC” – THE BARYSHNIKOV ARTS CENTER”

  1. AdriaBalletBeat May 10, 2012 at 12:05 PM #

    I was pleased to read a story in today’s (5/10/12) New York Times on BAC its multidisciplinary residency program, supporting up to 30 artists a year: http://nyti.ms/KO4LCi. Young Jean Lee’s work was mentioned as one of the six out of 13 artists who were presented by the Center, and who also participated in its residency program. The article interviews Mr. Baryshnikov and discusses his commitment to developing new work.

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