Using ballet as his launching pad, this restlessly adventurous artist (now 41) redefined dance-star versatility in the '80s through his involvement in movies, television and, finally, the legitimate (non-dance) stage--and by testing himself against more movement idioms than seemed possible or even wise.
From Martha Graham modernism in the theater to the finale of "A Chorus Line" on TV, and from the Red-baiting melodrama of the "White Nights" movie hit to the periodic reminders that this was the greatest Albrecht of our lives, Baryshnikov triumphed.
Even his failures loomed large: the sexual and directorial inadequacies that Gelsey Kirkland detailed in her best-selling book "Dancing on My Grave" and the grandiose image-mongering of the movie "Dancers," with its ads showing Baryshnikov and his filmic love interest, Julie Kent, in roughly the same size-ratio as King Kong and Fay Wray.
Barynishikov influenced tastes, all right, but not always positively. By example and instruction he undoubtedly upgraded the standard of classical dancing at American Ballet Theatre during his time as director. However, in his regime the company also grew increasingly irresponsible toward classical choreography. Indeed, Baryshnikov's ABT became a source of fake antiques, with his recent "Swan Lake" typifying the patchwork of styles at its most ruinous.
Finally, as a leader and the most visible personality in dance, couldn't Baryshnikov have done a lot more, a lot sooner, to combat the dance world's widespread denial concerning both drug abuse and the AIDS crisis?
The Taste Makers project was edited by David Fox, assistant Sunday Calendar editor.