A Toxic Town House on Upper East Side? … His Name Is Mikhail Baryshnikov, Don’t Ask His Age

Cranky Dancer

The chill in the air in Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Upper West Side apartment came from more than the sparsely decorated walls.

Although he is turning 50 on Jan. 25, Mr. Baryshnikov got very defensive when, during an interview on Jan. 9, The Transom asked him about the prospect of his retirement. “It’s not your business, O.K.?” he screamed. “Why does cross your mind such a question? It’s like to ask woman in her middle ages, does she still have period or not? … If I am still interested in my work and I think I’m doing important work and the audience is still enjoying seeing me dance, I will dance. If the situation will change, then I’ll tell you. “

Although he was looking forward to his first solo engagement in the United States -Mikhail Baryshnikov: An Evening of Music and Dance will run at City Center from Jan. 21-25-he can’t stand the media bombardment that goes along with it. “For just a few performances, I’m giving 20 interviews,” he said. “They’re such a weird and, in many instances, not productive sort of time span. You get really annoyed, or your ego starts to blow up. It’s awful. What for? Tickets are pretty much sold.”

Yes, tickets are pretty much sold out for his show. But Mr. Baryshnikov, a former principal dancer with the Kirov and New York City ballets and the former artistic director of the American Ballet Theater, knows he can’t afford to stay out of the spotlight. His modern dance company, White Oak Dance Project, which he co-founded with choreographer Mark Morris eight years ago, is fundamentally dependent on ticket sales and, to this end, there is no such thing as too much publicity.

Aside from reluctantly enduring periodic media probes, Mr. Baryshnikov is living a dancer’s dream. Unlike most companies, which are bound to a limited repertoire, White Oak performs pretty much whatever the dancers want, whenever they want. The company’s eight dancers were hand-picked from the country’s most reputable troupes-the Twyla Tharp Dance Company, the Elisa Monte Dance Company, Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater and American Ballet Theater. Works by legendary modern dance choreographers are paired with those who are virtually unknown outside of the dance community. “It’s great for young choreographers to be on the same bill as the masters. It adds a touch of humility,” said Mr. Baryshnikov.

He can’t understand, though, why everybody is so intent on discovering the details of his personal life. “Dancers are stripped enough on stage,” he said. “You don’t have to know more about them than they’ve given you already. I want to see people dance, and I would like to guess what kind of people they are. Be sort of a voyeur. I don’t want to know the recipe for [their] pasta.”

-Shayna Samuels

Add Spice and Throw Up

The much-maligned Spice Girls have had it with those pesky tabloid journalists. Rather than allow themselves to look bad once again in the media, Scary, Baby, Ginger, Posh and Sporty Spice had their London lawyers cook up an interview waiver that practically asked reporters for fingerprints and urine samples in order to be admitted to the Spice Girls’ press junket on Jan. 17 in New York.

Dated Dec. 23, 1997, the two-page waiver contains seven different legal stipulations that must be followed by journalists interviewing the group on the occasion of their upcoming film, Spiceworld . Among other requirements, the letter insists that after the first publication of a story about the Spice Girls-artists formerly known as Victoria Adams, Melanie Brown, Emma Bunton, Melanie Chisholm and Geri Halliwell-a journalist relinquishes all rights to the contents of that interview to the Spice Girls Limited, the band’s corporation; that any “other exploitation” of the interview would depend upon written permission from the corporation; and that all parties must submit to the jurisdiction of the English court system. And in return for giving up these rights, the Spice Girls will pay journalists … a dollar.

“When we looked through [the waiver], we realized that this was not anything that anyone in this country was going to sign,” said Dennis Higgins, a spokesman for Columbia Pictures, which is distributing Spiceworld in the United States. “For all I know,” he continued, “[that's] the way British copyright law is.” But, he added, Columbia has prepared new waivers “which are written more in the standards of our normal business practices.” Indeed, the new form is shorter and to the point; it asks merely that the interview be published “in a timely fashion … in proximity to the film’s theatrical or home video release.”

Meanwhile, a recent e-mail clarifies why the Girls might be sweating over their image. One letter currently in circulation on the Internet, titled “The Spice Girls Application Form,” poses questions like, “Do you have any detectable vestige of talent besides your breasts?” and “Choose an appropriate nickname: Sexy, Nasty, Sweetie, Syphilis, Lardy, Sickly, Sporty, Slappy.”

“These are girls who have been burnt seriously a couple of times by the tabloid press,” said Mr. Higgins. True, various publications in the past year have taken them to task for firing the manager who brought them to stardom, for earning no Grammy nominations and for overmarketing themselves. (In England, supermarkets will soon carry “Scary Spice Pizza.”) “[But] what is great about the girls,” said Mr. Higgins, “is that they don’t take themselves so seriously.” And they’re probably laughing all the way to the bank. In addition to their first feature film, which premieres in Los Angeles on Jan. 22, their breakout album Spice and their second album, Spiceworld , are both among Billboard magazine’s top 20 albums.

-Kate Kelly

The Money Pit

Gerard and Lisa Eastman really, really didn’t want to sue their landlords. They’re an ambitious young couple-he’s an investment banker with Salomon Smith Barney-with a 2-year-old and another one on the way. And now they’re suing former regional Environmental Protection Agency administrator Constantine Sidamon-Eristoff, who is of counsel at Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler. Also named in the suit is his wife, Anne Eristoff, who is the chairman of the American Museum of Natural History. Their son is City Councilman Andrew Eristoff, Republican of the Upper East Side. In other words, the Eristoffs are neighborhood nobility.

But, according to the lawsuit the Eastmans filed in December in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, the Eristoffs rented them a lead-paint-tainted town house and then, when the Eastmans insisted that they clean it up, the couple charged that the landlords changed the locks and canceled the lease. The Eastmans still want to rent the house, and they want the Eristoffs to relieve it of its lead paint.

Until Jan. 31, the Eastmans are renting an apartment at 447 East 57th Street, a co-op building where Tina Brown and Harry Evans live. The couple didn’t want to buy in the building (they’re the only renters in the co-op), so two years ago they began looking for a new place to live. Mrs. Eastman said they wanted someplace nearer a “leafy park” for their kids to play in. What they found was a five-bedroom, three-story turn-of-the-century town house at 514 East 89th Street, which, according to real estate records, the Eristoff family has owned since 1927. There are five fireplaces, a garden and a baby grand piano in the living room. The Eastmans were to pay $6,700 a month; in their complaint, they say that they wrote a check in October for $13,400-one month’s rent plus deposit-when the lease was sent to them, marked “commencement date shall be Nov. 30, 1997.” According to the complaint, the check was cashed.

But a month and a half after the lease was signed, Ms. Eastman said, the Eristoffs told her they “did not know” if there was lead paint in the house. “Which I found totally absurd,” Ms. Eastman told The Transom, “because the house is from about 1890,” built long before anyone knew of the perils of lead paint as a toxin. So, on Nov. 6, she hired an inspector, who, she said, ran a test of the house and its grounds, “and it came back that there were very high levels of lead paint in the house and in the soil. And we said, What are you going to do about this, what are you going to do about this, what are you going to do about this? And it dragged on and on.”

According to the court papers, the lease specified that the Eristoffs would paint the house any color the Eastmans chose, but, Ms. Eastman said, when she demanded that her landlords comply with E.P.A. guidelines and hire anti-lead paint specialists for the job-using wet sandpaper to absorb the dust, for example-the Eristoffs balked. (Ms. Eastman said that her informal estimates for this service “were all under $100,000.”) On Nov. 26, the Eastmans received notice from the Eristoffs’ lawyers that “our clients hereby revoke the notice of Lease commencement date previously furnished to you.” On Dec. 3, the couple discovered that the house’s locks had been changed.

The Eristoffs could not be reached. When contacted in his office, one of their lawyers, William Heck, said, “I’m not at liberty to discuss the case.” At 10 A.M. on Jan. 14, the Eastmans will go to court, seeking a preliminary injunction against the Eristoffs to keep them from selling the house or renting to anyone else.

“We had no choice. If we didn’t file the suit, we would have nothing to say to the co-op board here. They would be like, Why didn’t you do something about it?” said Ms. Eastman, who added, “I know I’ll never sit on the board of the Museum of Natural History, and that doesn’t really bother me.”

What does bother her is the idea that she and her family might end up in “Stepford Wife” Connecticut. With the expiration date on their current lease coming up fast, she just wants a house to live in. “These people are very, very powerful, and I’m terrified of what they can do,” she said of the Eristoffs. “We had no hopes of getting into a co-op once this story went out. We need a family-size home to live in, which means 8 to 10 rooms … and they’re going to be like, ‘Oh yeah, the Eastmans, they sued the Eristoffs.’ No one’s going to look into the details and say, ‘Oh, they were right.’ They’re going to be like, ‘We don’t care how many references you have. We don’t want you; go away.’”

-Carl Swanson

Mick’s Sick Day at Raoul’s

The normally un-star-struck maître d’ at Raoul’s seemed to get a little weak in the knees on Jan. 7 when in out of the rain rolled Mick Jagger. The Stones’ front man deposited his bodyguard in the bar and headed to a booth, where he met his dinner companions, his niece Missy Hall and guitarist and musical arranger Jimmy Rip, who worked with Mr. Jagger on his 1993 solo album, Wandering Spirit . In the sea of black that comprises both the décor and the fashions of the Prince Street bistro, Mr. Jagger, in a red pullover sweater, stuck out like a sun-dried tomato, no matter how he tried to scrunch down into his booth.

But it was him, all right, as evidenced by the sudden circumambulation about the restaurant by Raoul’s otherwise jaded patrons, and by the maître d’s casting about for music that would please Mr. Jagger. He quickly settled on Billy Idol, the Cars, Haircut 100, the Human League-replacing the usual Wednesday-night jazz and funk soundtrack.

“This is really 1 A.M. Friday music,” said one diner familiar with the social intricacies of Raoul’s. She then whipped out her cellular phone to call a friend who is a Stones freak. The friend apparently consulted her concert schedule and her husband, an even bigger Stones freak, and relayed the news that Mr. Jagger was supposed to be playing in Syracuse that night, but had called in sick with laryngitis. A source familiar with Mr. Jagger’s health and tour schedule said, “Mick had very bad laryngitis. It wasn’t that he wasn’t able to walk around, it was just that he couldn’t sing. Nobody said he couldn’t eat.”

The Syracuse concert, she added, is rescheduled for “sometime in the spring.”

-Lisa Chase