on white nights

February 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

commandment: watch the following clip

from white nights, 1985, directed by taylor hackford.

white nights: the story of a friendship between two dancers; one a black-american tap dancer named raymond greenwood (played by american actor/dancer/singer/choreographer gregory hines),

gregory hines (19946-2003)

and the other a soviet ballet dancer, nikolai ‘kolya’ rodchenko, played by (the world-renowned and ever-so-charismatic real-life ballerino) mikhail baryshnikov.

soviet-born mikhail baryshnikov, often cited as one of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century, famous for his successes in films, tv, and stage.

plot: both defectors during the cold war (the former an expatriate from the states living in the soviet union and the latter a defector in the opposite direction), the two are forced to cooperate when they find themselves held captive in leningrad by the soviets.  further complicating the story, enter a young isabella rossellini (playing greenwood’s wife) and a very-young helen mirren as galina ivanova, a former ballerina who never left the soviet union and a former flame of nikolai.

isabella rossellini: italian actress, model, and daughter of actress ingrid bergman and director roberto rossellini.

english actress dame helen mirren and a russian accent.

filmed (under hazard) in soviet-controlled russia in the 1980’s, it’s pretty fascinating to see people living under this regime; secret cameras, mics, men in black suits and black cars watching your windows.. and the real-life footage of the daily lives of people in this situation commuting to work, hanging laundry, walking about the square.. things you can’t tell from reading textbooks about the time period.

but what am i talking about.. the real reason to watch this movie is for the dancing.  whether you know virtually nothing about ballet like me or are a seasoned ballet dancer, i bet you’ll be impressed.  mikhail baryshnikov was the rock star of the dance world in his heyday; after defecting from the soviet union to canada because he wanted to pursue more contemporary and non-traditional ballet, he danced with the best of the best.. for example, the new york city ballet under the renowned george balanchine.

a bit from his work in the ballet don quixote:

how many of you boys can move like that?  not only was he a legendary ballet dancer, he also worked in multiple films and was famous for his relationship with film actress jessica lange.

so when this man is paired with pretty much his opposite in terms of style of dance, something kind of fantastic happens.

one of the most compelling aspects of  this film is the theme of loss of identity, freedom, and personal aspiration.  this is present in the relationship between kolya and galina, the lover he left behind when he left the soviet union for his career.  when he returns and they are reunited, he finds that she is much changed, that she has chosen to adapt her life to fit the restrictions placed on her, and that she has lost some of her former fire.  he asks her, “do you really know what it’s like to be free?  do you?”.  the idea of being free to feel what you feel, not just in art but in life, and the desire to shout it instead of whispering it is something that really comes through in this film.. as it should, being about artists during the cold war.

one of my favourites, a charged scene of unbridled expression:

a movie about love, freedom, expression, dignity, and dancing..  best watched at night.




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