Baryshnikov and Dafoe in Robert Wilson's The Old Woman at Cal Performances, Berkeley

December 1, 2014 6:18 PM

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Two super stars of the stage -- ballet icon Mikhail Baryshnikov and actor Willem Dafoe -- in a fantastical, almost two-hour pas de deux, performed under the direction of gay theater genius Robert Wilson ( Einstein on the Beach). In black tie, with clownish Dada faces and pomaded wigs that make them look like schwul hairdressers in a 19th century picture book (think of "Struwwelpeter"). They are almost identical in their motion perfection, exchangeable marionettes running, bouncing, dancing, screeching, singing, stepping, talking and running some more. It took me some time to determine who was who: can Baryshnikov really speak in such a melodious, even suave baritone without a Russian accent? Can he really move without any display of ballet mannerism and self-conscious curlicues? "It was the hardest thing I've ever done," the master of 11 pirouettes admitted. Dafoe, seasoned experimental theater hound after 26 years with the New York Wooster Group, reported that he was at first intimidated by having to move and dance alongside Baryshnikov, but the two of them sweated it out under Wilson's implacable command, creating dance theater par excellence at the highest level. The style is ur-echt Wilson if you have seen other (dance) theater creations like The Black Rider: a mix of vaudeville and music hall, Punch and Judy, slow motion and stop motion, Commedia dell'arte, Cabaret and Grand Guignol. Throw in some silent movie expressionism, shadow play, and Tango - then imagine a seamless fluidity of all theses styles thanks to two bodies in unison, with constantly astonishing ease and originality. Does anyone care about the story? Is there a story?

Two super stars of the stage -- ballet icon Mikhail Baryshnikov and actor Willem Dafoe -- in a fantastical, almost two-hour pas de deux, performed under the direction of gay theater genius Robert Wilson ( Einstein on the Beach). In black tie, with clownish Dada faces and pomaded wigs that make them ...

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