He is short, with rounded muscles and the pale face of a man made up permanently as Petrouchka. Yet when he launches his perfectly arched body into the arc of one of his improbably sustained leaps—high, light, the leg beats blurring precision—he transcends the limits of physique and, it sometimes seems, those of gravity itself. If one goes by the gasps in the theater or the ecstasies of the critics, such moments turn Mikhail Baryshnikov, if not into a minor god, then into a major sorcerer.

The paradox of the man turns out...

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