"I always loved theater but I couldn't go see a play by Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller. So instead I went to see shows by [experimental theater artists such as] the Wooster Group, [Robert] Wilson and by Meredith Monk,
He was attracted to the theatrical visuals, the conceptual themes and the specific way the pieces moved "and that kind of theater was a cool thing. I had never seen anything like it."
It also inspired Baryshnikov to explore theater as he calibrated his dance career. In 1989, he performed in an adaptation of Franz Kafka's "Metamorphosis" on Broadway, in a role that did not make verbal demands on him. He played a man transformed into a cockroach.
But as he became more comfortable with English, he began to branch out.
"I could hear my voice and learn how to modulate it to express something that I feel," he says. "It was no longer I push a button and 'A' comes out. I began to feel that there was something there."
"Forbidden Christmas" in 2006, staged by experimental director Rezo Gabriadze, had very little text and relied on movement. "The notices were mixed but for me it was great," Baryshnikov says.
In 2007 and 2008, he performed in a series of Samuel Beckett short works, directed by Akalaitis and featuring actors Bill Camp, David Neumann and Karen Kandel.
When he did "In Paris " which Baryshnikov performed in his native Russian language and French for more than 100 performances in 2011 and 2012, "that gave me a little more stamina and confidence. "In Paris," which eventually played Lincoln Center, was a theatrical adaptation of a Russian novella of loneliness and loss by Nobel Prize winner Ivan Bunin, and staged by avant-garde director Dmitry Krymov.
It was inevitable he would turn to Chekhov, he says. "People told me I have to do Chekhov at least once, win or fail.
"I thought, 'Yes, maybe' but I would never have thought of a big play of his like 'Uncle Vanya' so I turned to the short stories, which would allow it to be conceptual and allow for interpretation. And I thought Paul and Annie-B would be the perfect pair."
Big Dance Theater
"It's an adaptation of a story so it's immediately insisting on translation in the largest sense of the word," co-director Lazar who says. They could have simply handed the story over to a playwright and said, 'Write a script for us to act out.'"
Instead the company used "a whole panoply of theater elements: video and dance and choreography and turned it into this thing that exists in some mysterious space between a story and a play. It still has a resonance of a written prose story — ambiguity that suggests multiple meanings. We actually use text at times so you don't entirely forget that this actually not a play. Chekhov knew how to write plays and if he wanted this to be a play he would have written it as a play.
"On first blush, the two stories couldn't be more different and we love that. The first story has many characters and a sequence of events "that makes it eminently theatrical."
"About Love" "demands complete simplicity, says Lazar. "It's a nice contrast. In the second piece Misha speaks very straight-forward and it's lovely, bittersweet."
In that story, a man has to make a decision about the married woman he loves as the train she is in is about to pull out of the station, perhaps taking her away forever
But there are similarities between the protagonists in the two stories
"They have both some sort of restraint, some self-imposed restriction," says Lazar. "They both place themselves in 'cases' and whether you think that's good or bad, oppressed or repressed, in Chekovian fashion, he leaves it somewhat ambiguous."
When asked if he likes his character, Baryshnikov counters, "Which one? Or do you mean the man who sits here now? My wife sometimes likes him but sometimes not. The reviews come in every day." He breaks out in a big laugh."