Dancer and choreographer Shura Baryshnikov, the daughter of ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov and Academy Award-winning actor Jessica Lange, has choreographed several pieces that will be part of Seattle International Dance Festival's Winter Mini Fest. She'll also perform on Jan. 18.
When your last name is Baryshnikov, the dance world will always be watching you.
Shura Baryshnikov, the 37-year-old daughter of ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov and Academy Award-winning actor Jessica Lange, is in town this weekend, and will perform with the Seattle International Dance Festival’s Winter Mini Fest on Friday, Jan. 18 — but don’t expect tutus and pointe shoes. A contemporary-dance artist with a special interest in contact improvisation, she’s here to debut the new work “Band,” choreographed and performed with Gabriel Forestieri.
“Seattle has a really rich reputation for supporting more experimental work,” she said, in a telephone conversation earlier this month, of the local dance scene.
“Band,” a combination of set choreography and improvisation, is a project Baryshnikov and Forestieri have been working on for a year. It’s a work rooted, she said, in “explorations of contact improv and partnering.” Baryshnikov explained contact improv, an offspring of contemporary dance, as a form of movement “where a point of contact is the kind of origination for experiments exploring earth’s physical laws,” such as gravity and centrifugal force. “It’s evolving dialogue, a moment of testing the body in relation to another.”
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It’s a far cry from the classical ballet in which Baryshnikov was trained as a child, which she stepped away from at the age of 13. “I felt no pressure from my parents to engage in the performing arts,” she said. “I think it was important to them that their children find their own paths.”
Her path was a winding one: teenage years spent riding horses and playing sports — “I think I needed to feel the physical challenge of other kinds of platforms and mediums” — and then studying modern dance in college, along with theater. “I didn’t actually return to performing until I was a little bit older,” she said, noting that her two daughters are now in their early teens. “It really did take some time for me to circle back around to making and performing dance.”
Now on the faculty of the Department of Theater Arts and Performance Studies at Brown University, Baryshnikov has her own dance company — Doppelgänger Dance Collective, based in Providence, Rhode Island — and has traveled nationally and internationally with her work as a dancer, actor and movement designer. And she’s come to terms with her famous name.
“The pressure of carrying that name dissuaded me from pursuing dance for a long time,” Baryshnikov said. “But after my children were through their early childhood, I found myself just not being satisfied with doing anything other than moving. Finally it was like, well, I have to grow a thick enough skin to think, I’m going to go out into the world with this name, and if people are going to compare me to him, that’s more about them than it is about me.
“I just have to follow my interests and pursue the kind of dance, dancemaking and body movement that is compelling to me, and not do it for any kind for reasons of legacy, but simply because I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Seattle International Dance Festival Winter Mini Fest, Erickson Theater, 1634 Harvard Ave., Seattle; $23/program ($18 student/senior) or $30/festival pass; seattleidf.org. Program A, on Friday, Jan. 18, includes Baryshnikov and Forestier’s “Band,” Seattle dancemaker Cyrus Khambatta’s “Gender Fender” and an untitled new work by Singapore dance artist Danny Tan. Program B, Jan. 25-26, includes two new untitled works by Baryshnikov and Forestieri, each created in less than a week with Khambatta’s company dancers, as well as Forestieri’s multimedia solo piece “Lacuna” and the premiere of Khambatta’s “EarthQuake.”