Because…by Mikhail Baryshnikov, 2007
DC Landmark: J.F.Kennedy Memorial Center
Movie: Mad Hot Ballroom, 2005
Song: America by Stephen Sondheim (West Side Story)
Theme: American Dreams
Sociopolitical: Immigration/ Race (Russia, Hispanic Heritage, Puerto Rican immigrants)
* This literary map podcast is a web of events that shows us how we are all connected in someway. In this case, how a group of people are connected to the District of Columbia. Our journey will take us from the bowels of Latvia, Eastern Europe, to Toronto, New York City, and F Street. Then we will travel to New York City’s P.S. 112 Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, P.S. 150 Tribeca, and P.S. 115 Washington Heights. We will map our way from Puerto Rico to Harlem. Finally, we will revisit the halls of the only living memorial to President John F. Kennedy, the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C, everyone is welcomed, and all in our map will eventually journey there after triumphs of adversity.
* Mikhail Baryshnikov defected in 1974 while touring Canada with the Kirov Ballet. Although having Russian parents, Baryshnikov was actually born in Riga, Latvia. During Baryshnikov’s time of defection, Russia and the U.S. had eased previous Cold War tensions from the 1950’s. In 1979, Baryshnikov moved to New York and studied under Balanchine. The U.S. had also absolved the notion of detente and Cold War tensions were re-awakened. Mikhail Baryshnikov became artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre and was considered to be the greatest living male dancer of our time.
* His introduction to ballet came from his mother Aleksandra when he was yourng. When Baryshnikov was 12, Aleksandra had committed suicide. Mikhail was raised by his grandmother and father while continuing to focus on, love, and master the art of ballet.
* Baryshnikov’s love of ballet transformed the art of dance and he was honored in the year 2000 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This memorial in Washington D.C. is the mecca of the arts world. The center prides itself on connecting American audiences with foreign artists and art forms. In May 2007, Baryshnikov published a children’s story about the love of a young boy and his love of dancing. The young boy’s inspiration to move came from his grandfather. Why did his grandmother love to dance? Because… Because is the reason for every emotion and reason for movement in the story. We can fill in the blanks.
* It is stories like Baryshnikov’s of adversity, joy, and triumph that move us to dance.
* Because is also the mantra for the children in New York’s public schools who are competing for a ballroom dancing title in the movie entitled Mad Hot Ballroom. Over 600 children dance towards their dreams, they dance to forget, they dance to remember. Their ambition is great, just like Baryshnikov’s.
* In 2006, the Mad Hot Ballroom dancers also performed at the Kennedy Center to tumultuous ovations during a celebration of the famed composer and lyricist of West Side Story, Steven Sondheim.
* This text set, Because by Baryshnikov, the film Mad Hot Ballroom, a tour of the Washington DC memorial: John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the musical anthology of Sondheim’s musical, West Side Story all tell the story of a defection of sorts. A defection of norms, stereotypes, discrimination, and predictability. Sondheim’s song “America” may give us insight into Baryshnikov’s teasing grandmother in the story, ‘Because’. “Everyone there will give big cheer (in America)”.
* Bravo, Bravo, Bravo!
* Bravo Sondheim, Bravo children of dance, Bravo Baryshnikov. You have all changed the world through dance…Because.