Mikhail Baryshnikov’s latest touring project, Hell’s Kitchen Dance, is an absolute delight, mostly thanks to the talent of young Canadian-born choreographer Aszure Barton. From my review in today’s Chronicle:

“It used to be Mikhail Baryshnikov kept getting older while the dancers around him kept getting younger. But with his latest project, Hell’s Kitchen Dance, the ballet superstar is younger, too — at least on-screen, where footage of him as a nimble Kirov Ballet student looms as oversized as his fame.

Onstage at the intimate Zellerbach Playhouse, where this Cal Performances engagement continues through Sunday, the present-day Baryshnikov took one look at the pliant knees and fearless jumps of yesteryear and shrugged in joking defeat Thursday night, even though his current physical state is hardly impoverished. He looped through the deceptively slouchy phrases of Benjamin Millepied’s “Years later” with consummate control, and even chanced a high-flying moment or two. At 58, his kinesthetic intelligence is so refined that it is possible to choose a single element of his dancing — his hands, for instance — and spend an entire night fascinated by the choices he makes with them.

And yet his performance is not the primary reason this program rates a must-see. Hell’s Kitchen Dance is named after the Manhattan neighborhood of the recently opened Baryshnikov Arts Center, where Millepied and Aszure Barton are the first beneficiaries of Baryshnikov’s initiative to foster fresh dance-making talents. Millepied may be gifted; it was difficult to tell from “Years later,” which was enhanced greatly by Olivier Simola’s extensive videography, but lingered in mind more as a clever star vehicle than a statement of choreographic originality.

Barton is clearly brilliant.

This became obvious toward the end of “Over/Come,” the work for 13 dancers (sans Baryshnikov) that opens the evening. It’s set to love songs one might imagine spilling out of a Bohemian cafe on a warm summer evening and populated by romantically disaffected hipsters in casually chic clothing. But it’s the punchy movement rather than the atmosphere that keeps the dance compelling. Barton dissects phrases into tiny parts, rearranging and manipulating them into physical non-sequiturs. The result is an unpredictable chain of precise motion, punctuated by physical explosions more complex and outrageous than the best Jim Carrey impersonation.”

Click here for the whole review.

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