First Night: Baryshnikov wins hearts with Oak company

White Oak Dance Project Sadler's Wells
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WHEN YOU'RE as famous as Mikhail Baryshnikov you are entitled to your own showcase company. White Oak Dance Project, founded nearly 10 years ago, completes Baryshnikov's canny transition from youthfully airborne ballet prince to mesmerising modern dancer.

Its arrival at Sadlers Wells for four nights follows past London visits and repeats the format of Baryshnikov (in solos or ensembles) alternating with pieces for the rest of the company. This time, though, Baryshnikov is the only man, surrounded by a harem of five women. Is he living up to his Lothario reputation? Or is he now afraid of unflattering comparisons with younger men?

At 51, Baryshnikov looks fit and lean. However, his Japonoiserie solo Dance With Three Drums and Flutes created for him last year by the Kabuki onagata (female impersonator) Tamasaburo Bando, threatened at first to backfire with a Western audience. A yellow and black skirted costume, male yeowing wails along with flute and percussion, and minimal movement presented with Zen-like concentration provoked titters from some quarters.

But by the second half we were completely won over, as the choreography expanded in breadth and variety, and we saw a wonderful flurry of turns and jumps.

Another piece, Mark Morris's The Argument set to Schumann's Funf Stucke im Volkston (Five Pieces in the folk Style) gave further evidence that Baryshnikov remains a stunning dance presence. He and three women performed a suite of dances that were like overlapping monologues and conversations evoking the different moods of the music (played by a cello and piano on stage). Buy a ticket, if there are any left.

Nadine Meisner

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