The Resurrection of Joseph Brodsky


Linda Kinstler in The Paris Review [h/t: Dana Hammer]:

Brodsky couldn’t remember the first time he met Baryshnikov. “We had a few rather close friends in common in Leningrad,” he said in conversation with Solomon Volkov at his apartment on Morton Street in the late seventies. Baryshnikov was also a close friend of Brodsky’s daughter, a fellow dancer; he even drove her home from a Leningrad hospital after she gave birth. But the two men only met many years later, in New York, after Baryshnikov defected from the USSR in 1974.

For Baryshnikov, the memory of their first meeting is all too clear: one evening in 1974, the composer Mstislav Rostropovich organized a party in New York in honor of the visiting Soviet writer Alexander Galich, and took the recently defected Baryshnikov, then in his midtwenties, along. Brodsky was there. “He was sitting, smoking, very red, very handsome. He looked at me, smiled, and said, Mikhail, take a seat, we have a lot to talk about,” Baryshnikov recalled in a Russian-language interview with a Riga magazine in October. “He gave me a cigarette, my hands were trembling … For me, he was a legend.”

After dinner, the two men went on a long walk through the West Village, found a Greek restaurant open late to continue their conversation. They exchanged numbers. Soon, they were talking nearly every day. Brodsky gave Baryshnikov reading assignments, introduced him to his friends—Czeslaw Milosz, Stephen Spender, Susan Sontag. “He kind of put me on my feet,” Baryshnikov recalled. “That was my university.”

Brodsky dedicated several of his poems to Baryshnikov, who carries his friend’s work with him, and resurrects their dialogue on stage. Hermanis, who began developing the idea for the production fifteen years ago, described it to Latvian public media as a “spiritist séance.” He and Hermanis were both born in Riga, and it wasn’t by accident that they chose that city for the debut run of what Baryshnikov has called “the most private and important work I’ve done in my life.”

More here.