BARYSHNIKOV DECLINES SOVIET INVITATION

Mikhail Baryshnikov has officially declined the recent unprecedented invitation to dance once again in the Soviet Union, 13 years after his defection.

However, in a bit of Iron Curtain diplomacy, the 39-year-old dancer said on Wednesday that a return would be possible if the Soviets invite his company, American Ballet Theatre, as well.

According to a statement issued by Edgar Vincent, his manager, Baryshnikov had requested that, as a condition of returning to his homeland for a gala at the Bolshoi this weekend, Soviet authorities would agree to a two-week engagement by Ballet Theatre in October.

At a meeting with Bolshoi Ballet artistic director Yuri Grigorovich in New York last month, Baryshnikov argued that since the Kirov Ballet had visited the United States last year and the Bolshoi is coming this year, his proposed visit by ABT would be "the next logical step in view of our company's national stature and unique heritage in repertoire."

The initial response from Moscow was reportedly "enthusiastic." Then, in an odd twist, Baryshnikov learned of a communique from Moscow--which, while intended for him, he said he never received--stating that the invitation could not be extended to Ballet Theatre because the Bolshoi would be closed in October due to renovations.

Baryshnikov responded, "I'm surprised, since this communique skirts the facts. The fact is that there are dozens of theaters in both Moscow and Leningrad other than the Bolshoi that would be appropriate. I never suggested any specific theater."

Nonetheless, he expressed guarded optimism. "My hunch is," he said in his statement, "that with a little good will on both sides, this can be worked out. What every Russian knows is how to stand on line. I guess we (i.e., Ballet Theatre) have to stand on line to get a theater."

The invitation extended to Baryshnikov was also reportedly issued to two other celebrated defectors from the Kirov Ballet--Natalia Makarova and Valery Panov--though sources differ on the matter. The dancers were asked to appear at an international gala at the Bolshoi on Saturday, to dramatize the thaw in Soviet-United States relations.

Although Makarova was unavailable for comment Wednesday, her husband, Edward Karkar, said she declined the invitation because "there just isn't enough time to prepare." He said he believed that the gala has subsequently been canceled, though Vincent said the event would take place without international guests.

As with Baryshnikov, the door apparently is being left open for a possible return by Makarova, though she has stated that she would prefer dancing with her old home company than with the Bolshoi. She recently received "a standing invitation" from Grigorovich, Karkar said. "It's a matter of time before she decides."

Panov could not be reached for comment.

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