Baryshnikov, Mikhail 1948-

views updated May 17 2018

Baryshnikov, Mikhail 1948-


Born January 27, 1948, in Riga, Latvia, USSR; immigrated to Canada, 1974; immigrated to United States, 1974; naturalized U.S. citizen, 1986; son of Nikolai and Alexandra Baryshnikov; companion of Jessica Lange (an actress), mid-1970s-early 1980s; companion of Lisa Rinehart (a dancer), early 1980s—; children: (with Lange) Aleksandra; (with Rinehart) Sofia, Anna, Peter. Education: Trained in ballet at School of Theatre Opera Ballet (Riga); Agrippina Vaganova Choreographic Institute, graduated 1967. Hobbies and other interests: Fishing.


Home and office—New York, NY.


Dancer, choreographer, actor, and author. Kirov Ballet, Leningrad, USSR, soloist, 1969-74; American Ballet Theatre, New York, NY, principal dancer, 1974-78, 1979-90, director designee, 1979-80, artistic director, 1980-89; New York City Ballet, principal dancer, 1978-79; White Oak Dance Project, director and dancer, 1990-2003; Baryshnikov Center for Dance, New York, NY, founder, 2004. Guest artist with numerous groups, including National Ballet of Canada, Royal Ballet, Hamburg Ballet, Ballet Victoria, Stuttgart Ballet, Vienna Opera Ballet, Alvin Ailey Company, Eliot Feld Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company, and Mark Morris Dance Company. Performer in numerous television programs or specials, including The Nutcracker, In Performance at Wolf Trap, Live from Lincoln Center, Baryshnikov at the White House, Baryshnikov on Broadway, Baryshnikov in Hollywood, and Baryshnikov by Tharp. Actor in motion pictures, including The Turning Point, 1977, White Nights, 1987, and Dancers. Choreographer of full-length ballets, including The Nutcracker, 1976, Don Quixote (Kitri's Wedding), 1978, Cinderella, 1984, and Swan Lake, 1989. Performer on stage, including in Forbidden Christmas; or, The Doctor and the Patient, 2004. Co-owner, Russian Samovar (restaurant), New York, NY.

Awards, Honors

Gold Medal, Varna Dance Competition, 1966; Gold Medal, First International Ballet Competition, 1969, and Nijinsky prize, Paris Academy of Dance, 1969, both for performance in Vestris; Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1977, for The Turning Point; award from Dance magazine, 1978; D.F.A. from Yale University, 1979; Kennedy Center Honor, 2000; Jerome Robbins Prize, 2004; National Arts Award, 2005; George and Judy Marcus Prize for Lifetime Achievement, 2006; honorary degrees from New York University, 2006, Shenandoah University Conservatory, 2007, and Montclair State University, 2008; Commonwealth Award; Chubb fellowship, Yale University.


Baryshnikov at Work: Mikhail Baryshnikov Discusses His Roles, photographs by Martha Swope, edited by Charles Engell France, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1976.

(Author of introduction and commentary) Baryshnikov in Color, edited by Charles Engell France, Harry Abrams (New York, NY), 1980.

Peter Anastos, The Swan Prince: A Fairy Tale, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1987.

(Author of foreword) Reinventing Dance in the 1960s: Everything Was Possible, edited by Sally Banes, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 2003.

(With Vladimir Radunsky) Because …, illustrated by Radunsky, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2007.


Mikhail Baryshnikov is widely hailed as one of ballet's greatest performers of all time. Born in 1948 in the former Soviet Union, he began dance studies at age nine and became a principal dancer for the prestigious Kirov Ballet in 1969. Because he had a stellar career in the communist USSR, Baryshnikov was given many comforts not available to most Soviets, and he toured widely outside the country before defecting to the West in the mid-1970s. North American critics found in the Soviet dancer an unequaled combination of acting and athletic talents. Unlike most dancers, Baryshnikov's dramatic expressions on stage were hailed as utterly convincing and stirring, while his technical capabilities—including

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his extraordinary leaping capacity—continue to be unmatched. As a dancer, as well as an artistic director, Baryshnikov has continued to push for innovation in the dance by promoting performance opportunities for younger dancers, injecting minimalism and improvisation into his performances, and cofounding the White Oak Dance Company with choreographer Mark Morris.

In addition to his successes on stage (he has danced over one hundred different works during his long career), Baryshnikov has also acted in several films, and his public appearances have made him well known as a celebrity. In 2007 he shared his love of the dance and his belief in life's possibilities in the pages of Because …, a picture book featuring illustrations by coauthor Vladimir Radunsky. In the book, a young red-haired narrator describes what it is like to spend each day with his quirky grandmother. The agility and grace of the stout woman, as well as her obvious zest for life as she leaps, spins, cartwheels, and prances through the week, cause the boy embarrassment. Her activities also prompt others to question how she can sustain such energy, and her answer to such questions is always that she is a dancer. Praising the "buoyant" illustrations created by Radunsky, Jennifer Mattson added in Booklist that "young readers will respond to [the book's] … worthwhile, inclusive message about joy in physical movement." In School Library Journal Suzanne Myers Harold dubbed Because … "a playful book about being true to oneself regardless of how others react," and in Publishers Weekly a critic cited the author's "casual text" as positive and inspiring. "Radunsky's trademark offbeat artistry makes him a perfect partner in this charming pas de deux," concluded a Kirkus Reviews critic of Baryshnikov's picture-book debut.

Biographical and Critical Sources


Alovert, Nina, Baryshnikov in Russia, translated by Irene Huntoon, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1984.

Aria, Barbara, Misha: The Mikhail Baryshnikov Story, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1989.

Glassman, Bruce, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Silver Burdett (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1990.

Goodman, Saul, Baryshnikov: A Most Spectacular Dancer, Harvey House (New York, NY), 1979.

Klein, Norma, Baryshnikov's Nutcracker, Putnam (New York, NY), 1983.

Smakov, Gennady, Baryshnikov: From Russia to the West, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1981.


Dance, March, 1994, Hilary Ostlere, profile of Baryshnikov, p. 38; May, 1998, Hilary Ostlere, interview with Baryshnikov, p. 44.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2007, review of Because …

New Yorker, January 19, 1998, Joan Acocella, "The Soloist," p. 44.

Publishers Weekly, April 2, 2007, review of Because …, p. 55.

School Library Journal, May, 2007, Suzanne Myers Harold, review of Because …, p. 84.


While Oak Dance Project Web site, (August 15, 2008).

Mikhail Baryshnikov

views updated Jun 08 2018

Mikhail Baryshnikov

Mikhail Baryshnikov (born 1948) was a ballet dancer who defected from the former Soviet Union to the United States. He explored both classical and modern ballet forms and was artistic director of the American Ballet Theater before resigning and establishing the White Oak Dance Project.

Mikhail Baryshnikov was born in Riga, Latvia, on January 27, 1948. His dance studies began in 1960. He trained for three years at the Riga State Choreographic School until his fifteenth birthday, when he traveled to Leningrad with an advanced student group. The son of Russian parents, Baryshnikov found a congenial home in Leningrad. Motivated to audition for ballet school there, Baryshnikov passed his entrance examination and was accepted into one of Russia's finest ballet training institutions (the Vagarova School). Here he studied with one of the great teachers of this century, Alexander Pushkin. He joined the Kirov Ballet in 1967, entirely bypassing the usual years in the corps de ballet. He quickly became one of that legendary company's most brilliant soloists.

In a dramatic and adventurously romantic leap to the West, Baryshnikov defected from the former Soviet Union in June 1974. Still a member of the Kirov, he had been dancing in Toronto, Canada, with a touring troupe from Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet. Following the group's final Toronto performance, Baryshnikov leaped into a waiting car—rather than the chartered bus transporting the Russian dancers—and disappeared into the Canadian wilderness, soon to reappear to thunderous acclaim on American stages.

The successes of his early career had been marked by formal competitions and roles in modern and classical repertory. He won a gold medal at the Varna, Bulgaria, ballet competition in 1966, and in 1968 he won the gold medal at the First International Ballet Competition in Moscow. His professional debut, in the "peasant Pas de Deux" of "Giselle, " would much later be echoed in the West in his New York City debut with American Ballet Theater in August 1974. His partner was Natalia Makarova, who had defected from the Kirov in 1970.

His Western admirers, critics and fans alike, immediately compared Baryshnikov with another of Pushkin's students, Rudolf Nureyev, who had fled the former Soviet Union and the haven of the Kirov Ballet in 1961. They found the 26-year-old Baryshnikov a restrained, less ostentatious proponent of the Russian ballet style than Nureyev. His technique was praised for its ease and purity, and his elevation and ballon (the ability to appear to pause, suspended in the air during leaps) were universally acclaimed. As Baryshnikov explored the various styles of American modern dance and contemporary ballet for which he had left the comparatively constrained environment of the Kirov, his abilities seemed limitless.

During his initial three years in the West, particularly as a principal dancer with American Ballet Theater from 1974 to 1978, Baryshnikov showed a voracious appetite for all the challenges that a welcoming dance world would present to him. He learned some 22 new roles, dancing the choreography of Antony Tudor, George Balanchine, John Neumeier, Roland Petit, John Butler, and Twyla Tharp, among others.

In a move that surprised many—because it presupposed a lower salary and less than the star-status billing— Baryshnikov joined the New York City Ballet in 1978. For 15 months he challenged himself with the unfamiliar style and rhythms of George Balanchine's choreography. The next phase of his career began in September 1980 when Baryshnikov became the artistic director of the American Ballet Theater.

Having successfully explored ballet in its classical form and in its contemporary styles, as well as the work of modern dance-makers, and finding himself at the head of one of the great American ballet companies, Baryshnikov continued his search for new avenues of expression in television and motion pictures. "The Turning Point, " made in 1977, introduced him to audiences unfamiliar with his ballet work and earned him an Academy Award nomination; "White Nights" (1986) was his next screen effort.

Baryshnikov was named the artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre in 1980. During his tenure he was credited with adding numerous modern pieces to the repitore and with improving the company's fortunes both artistically and financially. In September 1989 Baryshnikov resigned as the creative director of the American Ballet Theatre due to a power struggle with the company's executive director and the board of trustees. He then co-founded the White Oak Dance Project and continued to perform.

Baryshnikov, in discussing his career, summarized his experiences in a comment he made to Gennady Smakov, author of "The Great Russian Dancers." The dancer said, "No matter what I try to do or explore, my Kirov training, my expertise, and my background call me to return to dancing after all, because that's my real vocation, and I have to serve it."

Further Reading

As is the case with most dancers, the most effective documentation of Mikhail Baryshnikov is the photograph. Most books focusing on him are in the category of photo albums attempting to illustrate his work through freeze-action shots.

Baryshnikov at Work, which is edited and introduced by Charles Engell France, features many photographs of the dancer by Martha Swope (1976). The same editor and photographer collaborated on Baryshnikov in Color (1980); this book also includes photographs of Baryshnikov by photographers other than Swope. Other books on this artist include: Bravo, Baryshnikov by Alan LeMond, with photos by Lois Greenfield and others (1978); Baryshnikov on Broadway, with photos by Martha Swope and an introduction by Walter Terry (1980); The Making of a Dance: Mikhail Baryshnikov and Carla Fracci in Medea/Choreography by John Butler, photographed and edited by Thomas Victor, with an introduction by Clive Barnes (1976); and Baryshnikov in Russia by Nina Alovert (1985).

Baryshnikov's post American Ballet Theatre career is detailed in "After Baryshnikov, What?" in Newsweek (January 29, 1990); also in "White Oak Dance Project: Baryshnikov Hits a New Personal Best" in Dance Magazine (March, 1994) and in "Modern Dance Junkie" in Village Voice (March 25, 1997). □

Baryshnikov, Mikhail

views updated May 18 2018

Baryshnikov, Mikhail (1948– ) US ballet dancer, b. Russia. A leading member (1969–74) of the Kirov Ballet, his defection to the West received much publicity. He was with the American Ballet Theater as principal dancer (1974–78) and artistic director (1980–89). He starred in several films and set up the White Oak Dance Project.

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