Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Platonov's Chevengur - The Ambivalent Space

Platonov is a kind of half-hidden writer for aficionados who took the risk of trudging through the narrows of his phraseology and an even greater risk of taking an interest in him during the period of what was once known as “Soviet 20th-century literature”. Readers are all doubtless familiar with the famous text by Joseph Brodsky that served as an afterword for Platonov’s The Foundation Pit since it is now almost a classic of the genre. In that work, Brodsky is not so much the philosophizing critic, pondering style from the perspective of a philologist, poet, and literary scholar, but the social anthropologist. When discussing Platonov’s phraseology, he refers to the inversion of his language as the main principle permitting him to shift away from the use of abnormal, non-standard literary language in order to describe the abnormal and non-standard situation in the country that gave rise to such language:
[Platonov’s] language fails to follow his ideas and suffocates from the overuse of subjunctive forms and supratemporal categories and phrases, with the result that even the simplest nouns lose their meaning in a cloud of conditionality. His prose reveals an anti-utopia in the language itself.
And the logic of Brodsky’s further reasoning boils down to the conclusion that Platonov resigned himself to the language of the epoch, the language of a dead end and surrealistic political consciousness. And by surrealism he meant — in spite of the classical traditions — the rebellion not of a solitary fragmented consciousness, but of a mass that has no language of its own, that has merged itself with the state, absurd in its very existence and social ignorance. According to Brodsky, fortunate is the country in which translations of Platonov are forbidden, where there is no language that befits the language of Platonov. In essence, he tries to comment, as a poet, on the anomalous inversive character of Platonov’s language by relating it to the anomaly of the country itself, its culture and the resulting surrealistic situation.

With all due respect for Brodsky’s position, it should be noted that there are other viewpoints. I believe that what is most interesting in the phenomenon of Platonov is that, while he is a person who has made himself the instrument of the attitudes — both conscious and subconscious — of his time, he also proved interesting for everyone, not so much (and not only) because he was a Soviet writer in the fullest sense of the word — that is to say, a part of Soviet culture, a fact of Soviet culture, an expression of Soviet culture — but something more than that: because, for the world, the interest in the phenomenon of Platonov is not simply in his depiction of the values, problems and situations of the Soviet period.

Another scholar, English sociologist Thomas Osborne, said that Platonov has very rare qualities, that his prose is surprisingly anthropological. That is why in Osborne’s opinion, in contrast to that of Brodsky, people’s attraction to Platonov is of another kind:
His originality is more than literary, however. It is anthropological in the widest sense of that term. His work captures aspects of the utopian impulse that may remain opaque to either the projectively utopian human sciences or speculatively utopian modes of literary imagination. It does this because Platonov sends back dispatches not from some imagined non-place or from a dystopic or even anti-utopian place, but from what we shall call actually existing utopia.
And it is understood that Platonov achieves certain universal and symbolic principles of an imaginary reality — a certain symbolism of human existence as yet unexpressed in literary “fictionalism”. This seems to me much more important and interesting, and to some extent explains why he won such acclaim as a universal writer, as we have witnessed for quite some time. Because, beginning in the 1960s, Platonov, with increased confidence, has occupied his own quite definite place as a world classic — and not only for scholars of Russian culture. He has become a writer through whom and because of whom one may understand and see the Russian situation in the 20th century. The same Thomas Osborne wrote:
Few can have known more about the meaning of utopia in the 20th century than the sublimely gifted Russian writer Andrei Platonov. For Platonov, utopia was not just something one thought or dreamed about; it was where one had to live. And, no doubt, more or less inevitably where one had to die […] Platonov showed us an “anthropological” dimension inherent in the utopian impulse, that we are, so to speak, “utopological” beings.
There was a period of good fortune in his life when he was successful at everything: studying at a technical university, launching his career as a journalist — a huge number of Voronezh newspapers and magazines published articles of his. It was at that time that a certain range of topics for his early works was formed. And one of his favorite themes was about unclear consciousness and emotions, which Platonov attributed — in precisely the same spirit of the classical Enlightenment ideology of Habermas’s modernism— to the lack of penetration, of sanctification, of the new idea in the culture of society.


Andrey Platonov - Two Extracts from Chevengur

The following chapters take place in 1920-21, as the Russian Civil War is ending.
Sasha [or Aleksandr] Dvanov is a young man whose father commited suicide as a child.
Zakhar Pavlovich is his adoptive father.

Dvanov opened the wicket gate into his yard and was glad to see the old tree growing beside the entrance-room. The tree was covered in cuts and wounds, an axe had repeatedly been put to rest in it while chopping firewood, but it was still alive, still keeping the green passion of foliage on its sick branches.

‘You back, Sasha?’ asked Zakhar Pavlovich. ‘It’s good you’ve come back – I’ve been here on my own. With you gone, I didn’t feel like sleeping. I just lay there listening and listening: could that be you I heard? I didn’t even lock the door because of you – so you could come straight in.’ 

During his first days at home, Aleksandr shivered and tried to get warm on the stove, while Zakhar Pavlovich sat down below and dozed as he sat. 

‘Sash, maybe there’s something you want?’ Zakhar Pavlovich would ask from time to time 

‘No, I don’t want anything.’ 

‘I was thinking that perhaps you should eat something.’ 

Soon Dvanov could no longer hear Zakhar Pavlovich’s questions or see him weeping at night and hiding his face in the recess in the stove where Aleksandr’s socks were drying. Dvanov had caught typhoid, which kept coming back, not leaving the patient’s body for eight months and then developing into pneumonia. Aleksandr lay in forgetfulness of his life and only occasionally in the winter nights did he hear locomotive whistles and remember them; sometimes the rumble of distant artillery reached the indifferent mind of the patient, and then it felt hot and noisy again in the cramped space of his body. During moments of consciousness Dvanov lay empty and dried up. All he could sense was his skin and he pressed himself down against his bedding; it seemed to him he might fly off, just as the dry light little corpses of spiders fly away. 

Before Easter Zakhar Pavlovich made a coffin for his adoptive son; it was sturdy and splendid, with bolts and flanges – the last gift that a master-craftsman father could give to his son. Zakhar Pavlovich wanted a coffin like this to preserve Aleksandr – if not alive, then at least intact for memory and love; every ten years Zakhar Pavlovich was going to dig up his son from the grave, so as to see him and sense himself together with him. 

Dvanov first left the house when the time was new; the air felt heavy like water, the sun seemed noisy from the burning of fire, and the entire world seemed fresh, pungent and intoxicating to his weakness. Life once again shone before Dvanov – his body had springiness, and his thoughts were leavened with fantasy. 

A girl he knew, Sonya Mandrova, was looking across the fence at Aleksandr. She couldn’t understand how come, if there’d been a coffin, Sasha hadn’t died. 

‘You haven’t died?’ she asked. 

‘No,’ said Aleksandr. ‘And you’re alive too?’ 

‘’I’m alive too. Together we’re going to live. Do you feel well now?’ 

‘Yes, I do. And you?’ 

‘I feel well too. But why are you so thin? Is it that death was inside you and you didn’t let it in?’ 

‘Did you want me to die?’ asked Dvanov. 

‘I don’t know,’ answered Sonya. ‘I’ve seen that there are a lot of people. They’re dying, and then they stay.’ 

Dvanov asked her to come round. Sonya climbed over the fence in her bare feet and gently touched Aleksandr, having forgotten him during the winter. Dvanov told her what he had seen in his dreams and how dreary it had been in the darkness of sleep. There hadn’t been any people anywhere, and he knew now how few of them there were in the world: it had been the same when he was walking through steppeland not far from the war – he hadn’t come across many homes there either. 

‘I wasn’t thinking when I said I don’t know,’ said Sonya. ‘If you’d died, I’d have begun crying for a long time. I’d rather you’d gone a long way away – then I’d have thought you’re alive in one piece.’ 

Aleksandr looked at her with surprise. Sonya had grown during this year, although she had eaten little; her hair had darkened, her body had acquired carefulness and being near her felt shameful. 

‘Sash, you don’t yet know. I’m studying now, I’m going to courses.’ 

‘What do they teach there?’ 

‘Everything we don’t know. One teacher says we’re stinking dough and he’ll make us into a sweet pie. He can say what he likes – after all, we’re going to learn politics from him, aren’t we?’ 

‘You - stinking dough?’ 

‘Uh-uh. But soon I won’t be, and nor will others, because I’ll become a teacher of children and they’ll start getting clever from when they’re little. And no one will call them stinking dough.’ 

Dvanov touched one of her hands, so as to get used to her again – and Sonya gave him her second hand too. 


Translated from Russian by Robert ChandlerElizabeth Chandler, and Olga Meerson

Monday, 27 January 2014

Anna Akhmatova: To Death

You’ll come regardless – why not today? 

I await you – life is very hard.
I’ve killed the lights, cleared the way
For you, so simple, such a marvel.
Take on any shape you wish,
Burst in like a poisoned shell,
Sidle in like a slick bandit,
Or a typhus germ from hell.
Or a fairy-tale you’ve invented,
Always sickeningly familiar –
Where I see policemen’s heads,
And a concierge white with fear.
It’s all one now. The Yenisey swirling,
While the Pole star’s alight.
And in final terror closing
Blessed eyes, blue and bright.

                              19th August 1939
                              The House on the Fontanka,

Monday, 20 January 2014

Writers and their wives: Together in love, work and legacy

Behind every great Russian writer, as the adage goes, there is a great woman who acted as literary agent, editor and scribe: Sofia Tolstoy, Anna Dostoevsky and Vera Nabokov supported their larger-than-life husbands even during the hardest of times.

The marriage of Sophia Bers to Leo Tolstoy lasted 48 years and her support helped him produce the epics “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.” It was Sophia who encouraged him to give up the habits and addictions of his youth. Prominent writer, hero of the siege of Sevastopol, Tolstoy was also a drinker, gambler and womanizer. He confessed it all to Sophia, promising “not to have any women in our village, except for rare chances, which I would neither seek nor prevent” – a witty excuse!

The poverty of Tolstoy’s estate, Yasnaya Polyana, shocked the young Sophia. The bed was without blankets, the dinnerware was old and the rooms in disrepair. Sophia ultimately restored and maintained the rural estate, adding to the chores of wife and mother. But what gave her joy, she said, was the work she did to nurture Tolstoy’s writing.
Sophia became Tolstoy’s secretary, scribe and agent. She copied the entire text of “War and Peace” seven times, and promoted her husband’s works (she even contacted Dostoevsky’s widow for advice). "I've never felt my intellectual powers, and even all my moral powers, so free and so capable of work" – Leo Tolstoy wrote during the happiest times of their marriage.
The difficulties began much later when Tolstoy developed a new philosophy near the end of his life. Tolstoy still wrote his wife long love letters, but already began denying the concepts of family and property. “I can’t tell where we went apart, but I had no strength to follow his teaching,” Sophia wrote. Finally, depressed and in disarray, Tolstoy wandered away from his estate.
Sophia reached Leo at a small railroad station where he lay dying, only to witness her husband’s last breath. The will to finish the complete edition of Tolstoy’s works helped Sophia overcome her grief. “I hope people will be lenient with the one who may have been too weak to be a wife of a genius and a truly great man,” she wrote.
Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina Dostoyevskaya.
Dostoevsky proposed to his stenographer, 20-year old Anna Snitkina, only a month after their first meeting. It was a creative and hectic month, however. Anna helped him finish his latest commission “The Gambler” and retain the rights to all of his work, which had been claimed by a greedy publisher. “My heart was filled with pity for Dostoevsky, who survived the hell of exile. I dreamed of helping the man whose novels I adored so much,” Anna wrote in her memoirs. In her, the disillusioned 45-year old writer found a woman completely dedicated to him and his work.
Dostoevsky was a hopeless gambler. After the marriage, the family had to flee Russia because Dostoevsky’s creditors hunted him for payment. Yet he continued gambling in Europe, sometimes having to pawn his wife’s dresses and jewelry. Anna treated his passion as a disease, rather than a vice. Once she gave him the last money that the family had to support itself. According to Dostoevsky, the disarming sincerity of this act allowed him to understand that Anna was “stronger and deeper than he knew.” He lost the money, but gave his wife two promises – never to gamble again, and to make her happy. He kept both.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Anniversary Exhibition on Ballerina Yekaterina Maksimova

Yekaterina Maksimova

The exhibition Everything Began with a Fouettй is timed to the 75th anniversary since the birth of the famous ballerina Yekaterina Maksimova.

The exposition dedicated to the prima of the Bolshoi Theatre will be opened in the Bakhrushin Theatre Museum in Moscow from January 25.

 The exposition starts from her childhood:  there are photos and other archive materials about her studies in the Moscow Choreography School.  They also tell about her participation in performances and concerts of the Bolshoi Theater in the course of her studies.  The next stage is mature creative life of the ballerina, including her ballet tours and repertoire. Among the rare exhibits there is the only oil painting made by Yekaterina Maksimova in all her life.  The painting created in the 1960s is titled Behind the Scenes before Taking Stage in Don Quixote.  The exhibition closes with the ballerina’s make-up room.

Yekaterina Maksimova is an illustrious Russian ballerina, well-known in Russia and abroad. A student of the legendary Galina Ulanova, she danced for many years on stage of the Bolshoi Theater and played the leads in ballets staged by Maurice Bйjart and some other foreign choreographers. From 1982 she taught at the Choreography Department of GITIS. Yekaterina Maksimova died on April 28, 2009.
See more at: RiC

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Shostakovich, Leningrad, and the greatest story ever played

The horrors of the Leningrad siege — the 900 Days of Harrison Salisbury’s classic — have been pretty well picked over by historians; and meanwhile the story of
Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, the improbable circumstances of its composition and first Leningrad performance in August 1942, is well known from the extensive, and still growing, literature on the composer.
But Brian Moynahan’s book is the first to my knowledge — in English at least — to interweave these narratives to any significantly detailed extent. Moynahan is not a musician, and this is not really a book about music. It’s about an event which symbolises and personalises a history that, en gros, is virtually beyond our comprehension — those of us who live peaceful, well-fed, well-warmed, secure lives in a free society unmenaced by tanks on the one hand or secret police on the other.
The technique, if not the scale, is Tolstoyan. Moynahan’s narrative frame — his Borodino — is the German invasion itself, the first part of the siege, the atrocious Russian military failures leading up to the nightmare of the Volkhov pocket, and the barely credible stupidities of the NKVD, who routinely, under orders from Stalin and Beria, shot or imprisoned their own best officers and large numbers of other mostly loyal citizens, at a time when military expertise was in desperately short supply and loyalty under severe threat.
Meanwhile conditions in the city deteriorated to far below subsistence level. The population starved and froze. They were reduced to eating horses, dogs, cats, rats, eventually even each other. With the outside temperature dropping to minus 35, they huddled in unheated rooms in whatever covering they could find. Corpses lined the streets as they lined the battlefield. It was, somebody remarked, like a painting by Hieronymus Bosch.
Shostakovich, a native of Leningrad/St Petersburg, was in the city for the first few weeks of the siege, and by the time he was flown out in early October 1941 he had composed the bulk of three movements of his Seventh Symphony. He already saw it as a symbol of the city’s defiance, and in Moscow he told an interviewer: ‘In the finale, I want to describe a beautiful future time when the enemy will have been defeated.’ It had become a Leningrad Symphony in all but name. Its composer had been photographed on the roof of the Conservatoire in a fireman’s outfit hosing down a (non-existent) conflagration. Now, in his absence, Leningraders struggled to concerts played by emaciated, half-dead musicians in freezing halls. Music had become an emblem of that peculiar Russian ability, honed through centuries of repression and hardship and in the end disastrously underestimated by Hitler, to slow down their mental metabolism almost to a standstill and survive like aesthetically tuned cattle in conditions that would drive others to breakdown and insanity.
How else to explain the successful performance of the Seventh Symphony that following August? It was a full-blooded 70-minute work for an orchestra of more than 100, performed by a radio band reduced by death and infirmity to a mere handful of sickly regulars, augmented by military-band players from the battlefront and by whatever extra wind and string players could be drafted in from the city’s dilapidated musical substrata, and directed by a conductor — Karl Eliasberg — who could himself barely hold a baton or stand upright.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Lev Yudin - Biography

Cubist composition, 1921

Painter, graphic artist, sculptor, illustrator, designer. Cousin of the pianist Maria Yudina (1899–1970). Born in Vitebsk in the family of a salt-mining agent called Alexander Yudin (1903). Learnt the art of cutting silhouettes from his mother. Studied under Vera Yermolaeva, Kazimir Malevich, Janis Tilbergs and David Jakerson at the Vitebsk School of Art (1919–22). Member of UNOVIS (1920). Decorated trams, buildings and the streets of Vitebsk and Smolensk on Communist holidays (1920–21). Accompanied Kazimir Malevich and a group of other students to Petrograd (1922). Studied at the VKhUTEIN in Petrograd (1922–23). Worked under Kazimir Malevich at the formal and theoretical department of the Institute of Artistic Culture (1923–26) and the Institute of the History of the Arts (1926–27). Member of the Group of Painterly-Plastic Realism, which met at his room in a wooden house on Shamshev Street on the Petrograd Side and at Vera Yermolaeva’s apartment on the 10th Line of Vasilyevsky Island (1927–34). Helped Vera Yermolaeva to design the poster advertising the Three Left Hours at the House of Printing in Leningrad (1928). Collaborated with the Hedgehog and Siskin children’s magazines (1928), illustrated Alexander Vvedensky’s Who? (1930). 
Married the artist Maria Gorokhova (1903–1991) and had a son called Alexander (1932). Joined the Union of Artists (1932). Designed Surrealist labels for powder compacts (1935) and created a series of paper sculptures intended to exist only in photographs (1935). Took up engraving under the influence of Dmitry Mitrokhin (late 1930s–early 1940s). Killed on active service at Ust-Tosno during the Second World War (1941). Contributed to exhibitions (from 1920). Contributed to the UNOVIS exhibitions in Vitebsk (1920, 1921) and in the Cézanne Club at the VKhUTEMAS in Moscow (1921, 1922), Die erste russische Kunstausstellung in the Galerie Van Diemen at 21 Unter den Linden in Berlin (1922), Exhibition of Pictures of Petrograd Artists of All Directions in Petrograd (1923), Artists of the RSFSR Over Fifteen Years in Leningrad (1932) and Moscow (1933), First Exhibition of Works by Leningrad Artists at the Russian Museum in Leningrad (1935) and posthumous one-man shows at the Tsarskoe Selo Collection Museum in Pushkin (2003) and the Museum of the Petersburg Avant-Garde in St Petersburg (2009).

Tatiana Nikolayeva talks about Shostakovich

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Anna Akhmatova: In every day there...

In every day there is such
A murky and irksome hour.
I speak loudly to melancholy,
Not having opened my sleepy eyes.
And it pulsates like blood,
Like the sigh of warmth,
Like happy love,
Smart and evil.

Poem from Plantain (1921)
Translated by Ljubov V. Kuchkina

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Rachmaninoff Documentary - The Harvest Of Sorrow

Documentary about the life story of Sergei Rachmaninoff through the use of home movies, concert footage, and interviews. Valery Gergiev as narrator and John Gielgud voices Rachmaninoff's diaries, directed by Tony Palmer.

Ivan Kozlovsky: The man who refused to sing for Stalin

Ivan Kozlovsky (1900-1993) was a legendary opera tenor and a soloist at the Bolshoi Theater. He sang more than 50 operatic roles, and was particularly famed as Lensky in “Eugene Onegin,” Simpleton in “Boris Godunov,” and Berendey in “The Snow Maiden.”
Kozlovsky was probably more popular in the 1940s that the current pop stars today are. His fan base mostly comprised girls from families of modest means. These young ladies, who often lived in communal apartments, were pining for an opera singer. He was the symbol of everything beautiful in their life.

Another famed opera tenor of the time was Sergei Lemeshev, who also had numerous female admirers. The two singers' fans would wait for them in the street, crowd outside their homes, and attempt to get into their dressing rooms.
They faithfully attended each of their idols' concerts and plays, and clashes between the two camps sparked up from time to time. Some even committed suicide over their unrequited love. Now that both singers are long dead, their erstwhile idolatresses meet up at their graves in Moscow's Novodevichy Cemetery.
Kozlovsky's voice could reach a strength of 150 decibels, but at the same time it was surprisingly tender and beautiful. He had very good articulation and made every single word distinct and clear, just like the old actors of the Russian imperial theaters before him. This is a lost art now: modern singers may have strong voice but they often mince their lyrics. Kozlovsky, by contrast, considered himself not just a singer but also a drama actor.
Kozlovsky would rehearse each role to the minute detail. If he thought a note had to be sung for longer than the scores suggested, he simply sang it that way, forcing the orchestra to catch up. Once, in Faust, he even performed a ballet role.
Kozlovsky had a very reclusive personality and always carried himself with utmost dignity. He harbored a grudge against the public and the authorities. Kozlovsky had attended a seminary, and retained a love for church music and Ukrainian Christmas carols.
However, he was not allowed to sing them in public. When he finally had a collection of carols recorded, the entire print run got destroyed. Ukrainian KGB officers took a special pleasure in insulting him by all but crushing the vinyl disks with their boots.
This happened in the 1960s. In the earlier days, Kozlovsky used to be Stalin's court singer. Once he got summoned to a Kremlin banquet late at night, when Stalin had decided to hear him perform the Georgian folk hit “Suliko.” Kozkovsky refused, saying that his throat was sore and he was afraid to lose his voice.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Vlas Doroshevich What The Emperor Cannot Do, Tales and Legends of the Orient

These tales could be written by and for modern, rebellious “anti-establishment” youth of today. The anti-establishment feeling is probably universal, timeless, and starts with Adam and Eve. Whatever their subject, Doroshevich’s tales are unexpected, exciting, colorful, and tremendously readable. They are a mixture of fantasy, irony, and often despair, caused by the fact that between men in power living in the complete isolation of an “ivory tower” and the ordinary people there exists a corrupt bureaucracy – an “establishment.” Any effort by a man in power – an “Emperor of China” or a “Caliph” – is always thwarted by his own “establishment” created to execute his orders. The “Emperor” or “Caliph” are kept so far from reality by their own underlings that the most obvious solution of a problem often escapes them. Any chance for a better solution devised by the ruler himself or his corrupt “establishment” results in greater suffering of the very people the change was supposed to help.

Doroshevich was born in Ryazan province into a wealthy upper class family, but his mother Alexandra Sokolova was disinherited by her family for marrying Vlas's father, an unsuccessful writer who died shortly before Vlas was born. When Vlas was six months old his mother who had two other children and was struggling financially, abandoned him and he was adopted by a childless couple by the name of Doroshevich.

At the age of sixteen Vlas withdrew from school and left home. After a short spell as a laborer he found work as a proof-reader and actor. During the 1880s he became a skillful journalist and critic, writing for the popular papers, which also employed the young Anton Chekhov. In 1893 he moved to Odessa to work as a reporter for the Odessa Flyer, a local paper with a large circulation. In 1897 he traveled to Sakhalin as part of a larger international assignment. He recorded his experiences and impressions in his book Sakhalin (published in English translation by the Anthem Press as Russia's Penal Colony in the Far East.) From 1902 to 1918 he was made the editor of the major paper Russian Word raising its circulation to one million. His travels in the East produced a book called Legends and Fairy Tales of the Orient. His best known work The Way of the Cross (1915) is an account of the refugees from the German invasion of Russia during World War 1, in August and September of 1915.

Even though he was rich, Doroshevich welcomed the Russian Socialist Revolution of 1917. The censorship of the Soviets turned out to be no less strict than the censorship of the Tsar. Fairy tales, however, did permit him to talk openly about the many wrongs that could not be discussed in a newspaper article under either regime. Doroshevich could not stand tyranny in any form and in his fairy tales, he availed himself of complete freedom to mock, to despise, and to accuse the strong and the rich for their wickedness, hypocrisy, and stupidity.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Baryshnikov, still making artistic leaps

Who knew Baryshnikov was a theater kid?

Growing up in Riga, Latvia, little Misha was introduced to the world of drama by his culture-vulture mom, Alexandra. “When I was 5 or 6, my mother used to drag me around to the theater,” the world’s most celebrated living male ballet dancer is saying, as he settles into a chair in a conference room inside his Manhattan operational base, the Baryshnikov Arts Center.

At the Leningrad ballet school at which he trained, and where the intimations of his star power were noted early, “We were forced to read Russian plays: Turgenev and Gogol,” he explains in a heavy accent, still formidable nearly 40 years after his defection to the West. Theater tickets were dispensed to the students, “and I went every night when I was free.”

In his social connections, he gravitated to those who orated rather than pirouetted. “I was drawn more to the theater,” he says. I had friends who were actors, theater directors. My first girlfriend was an actress. They were more interesting to me than the other dancers.”

If the ballet was where he made his indelible mark, executing the kinds of tombé coupé jetés he performed in the “Don Quixote” manege seen in the 1977 film “The Turning Point,” the world of plays, oddly enough, is where 65-year-old Mikhail Baryshnikov is increasingly finding an artistic home. He was off recently to Antwerp and Paris, for instance, to perform in “The Old Woman,” a stage adaptation of a novella by Russian surrealist Daniil Kharms, directed by Robert Wilson and co-starring Willem Dafoe.

And now this week he arrives in Washington with “Man in a Case,” a mixed-media performance piece adapted and directed by choreographers Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar that fuses two little-known short stories by Anton Chekhov, “Man in a Case” and “About Love.” The 75-minute work, with a cast of five, begins a 17-performance run at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre on Dec. 5.