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Freedom to Dance: The Mikhail Baryshnikov Archive, Part 2 - White Oak Dance Project
When Baryshnikov founded the White Oak Dance Project with choreographer Mark Morris in 1990 the focus was to give choreographers a venue for developing new works, as well as creating a touring arm to present them. The project also revisited modern works from previous decades, presenting them to new audiences throughout the United States.
The project began as an experiment. Touring smaller cities and avoiding major venues like New York at first, they picked up steam and began to find that there was an audience for their company.
A hallmark of the project's presentations was their seamless blending of the old and the new in dance. Over the years they performed Jerome Robbins Suite of Dances and Kevin O'Day's Quartet for IV. The company supported new works by Meg Stuart, and revisited older pieces such as Merce Cunningham's Septet and Signals and Erick Hawkins Journey of a Poet—which was conceived originally as a solo for Baryshnikov and then later reworked after Hawkins' death into a piece for the entire group. The blending of the old and the new was also evident in the selection of dancers at White Oak—young and old—all encouraged to dance within their means, and chosen for their strength and talent.
The Mikhail Baryshnikov Archive holds a wealth of photographs from various White Oak productions, as well as choreographer files which contain contracts and sometimes correspondence relating to the mounting of new works. For example, a lengthy letter from Dana Reitz describes her ideas for a set of vertical screens she envisions for Cantata for Two (1998) a piece featuring Baryshnikov and Tamasaburo Bando. She outlines not only technical requirements, but the effect and story that she will try to convey with the piece.
Baryshnikov and his foundation continue to support the development of new choreographers and artists today. For more insight into Baryshnikov's work to support dance in all its forms, visit the Mikhail Baryshnikov Archive at the Library of Performing Arts.