Mikhail Baryshnikov was born in Latvia in 1948. Baryshnikov was a very talented and respected ballet dancer of the Soviet Union during the late 20th century, Baryshnikov was a beloved by many in the USSR. Unfortunately, he could not reciprocate those same feelings. He moved from the Soviet Union to Canada in 1974 before moving to the United States in hopes of having a better opportunity to express himself creatively in a free country. His technique transcended any cultural barriers he experienced through immigrating, as Americans loved his technical excellence and grace as a ballet dancer just as the Soviets did. Baryshnikov worked with the American Ballet Theatre until 1978 before becoming its artistic director in the 1980s.
Mikhail Nikolayevich Baryshnikov was born on January 27 1948, in Riga, Latvia, to the Russian parents Nikolay Baryshnikov, an engineer, and Alexandra, a dressmaker. At that time, Latvia was part of the Soviet Union, on the cusp of The Cold War. He had a difficult childhood as he and his father never got along and as a young teen, his mother commited suicide. However, later as he grew up, he began draw inspiration from his father’s discipline, manners, and military habits. At the age of 9, He began to take ballet lessons. In 1964, he joined a school of classical ballet named the Vaganova School in Leningrad. He got the opportunity to learn from the very famous choreographer, Alexander Pushkin. In 1967, Baryshnikov made his stage debut with the Kirov Ballet in Giselle. Baryshnikov landed his first major honor in 1966, winning a gold medal at the Varna, Bulgaria, dance competition, and went on to win another gold medal at the First International Ballet Competition in Moscow in 1969. Baryshnikov’s fame began to grow; amazing audiences with his technical skill and physical expressiveness. By the late 1960s, he was one of the Soviet Union’s most famous ballet dancers.
In 1967, Mikhail Baryshnikov joined up with the Kirov Ballet as a soloist. His performance and excellent technique was well consumed and thusly he did not have to undergo the routine apprenticeship that many others did. He made his first on-stage performance with Giselle. Taking note of his versatility and perfection in technique, several choreographers choreographed ballet performances just for him. He has worked with great artists, such as: Igor Tchernichov, Oleg Vinogradov, Leonid Jakobson and Konstantin Sergeyev in this same manner. Later, he became the premier danseur noble of Kirov Ballet playing the leading roles in Gorianka in 1968 and Vestris in 1969. The roles that he depicted in these performances were exclusively choreographed for him to show off his technical skill and went on to become his signature pieces. He was very well-known among Soviet crowds, however, he was becoming uncomfortable with several restrictions that were imposed on him such as the ban on his performance of contemporary foreign ballet. In 1974, following a performance of the Bolshoi Ballet in Toronto with the Kirov Ballet, he requested refuge in Toronto in search of greater personal and creative freedom, stating that he would not go back to the USSR. He later explained his departure from his native country to the New Statesman, saying, “I am individualist and there it is a crime”. He consequently joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Within two years of living in Canada, he got the opportunity to work with several creative choreographers and explored the combination of traditional and contemporary technique. During this period he danced as a freelance artist with popular choreographers and companies like Alvin Ailey, Glen Tetley, Twyla Tharp and Jerome Robbins. Between 1974 and 1978, he was working with the American Ballet Theatre as principal dancer partnering with famous ballerina Gelsey Kirkland. During this period he improvised and choreographed Russian classics like The Nutcracker in 1976 and Don Quixote in 1978. He made his debut performance in television in 1976 in In Performance Live with Wolf Trap.
The following year, television network CBS bought his very popular ballet theatre performance of The Nutcracker for television. Outside of ballet, Baryshnikov explored other professional opportunities like television and film. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his acting in the dance drama The Turning Point in 1977, featuring Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine, which cemented popular interest in ballet. Between 1978 and 1979, he left the American Ballet Theatre and started working with the New York City ballet under choreographer George Balanchine. Here, several ballet roles were designed for him like the roles in Jerome Robbins’s Opus 19: The Dreamer in 1979, Other Dances, and Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody in 1980. He also made regular guest performances with the Royal Ballet. In 1980, he returned to American Ballet Theatre and served as Artistic Director and principal dancer until 1989. From 1990 to 2002, he was partnered with the White Oak Dance Project, a touring dance company as the Artistic Director, a dance company co-founded by himself and dancer and choreographer Mark Morris. Between the 1970s and the 1980s he made several appearances on television with ballet performances on shows like Live from Lincoln Centre and Great Performances. Other movies that he was part of include White Nights in 1985, That’s Dancing! in 1985, Dancers in 1987, and Company Business in 1991.
Despite old age, Baryshnikov continued his career around dance. At age 55, he acted in a minor part in the last season of television series “Sex and the City” from 2003 to 2004. In addition to performing on stage and in film, Baryshnikov branded his own perfume line, named after his nickname, Misha. In 2005, he founded an art complex named Baryshnikov Arts Center. It provides production facilities and space for performing arts like music, theatre, dance, film design etc. In 2006, he made an appearance on an episode of Sundance Channel’s series Iconoclasts. The following year, the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer featured an episode of Mikhail Baryshnikov and his arts center. Despite knee troubles, Baryshnikov continued to dance into his 50s and 60s. Baryshnikov put aside his love for performance for some of his most recent pursuits, however. He starred in the play In Paris in 2011 and 2012, which is based on a story by Ivan Bunin. The following year, Baryshnikov was the star in an experimental theater production called Man in a Case in Hartford, Connecticut. Awards and Achievements
In 1999, he was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts by the United States Congress in 2000. In 2003, he was awarded the Prix Benois de la Danse by the International Dance Association in Moscow for lifetime achievement. In 2012, he received the Vilcek Prize in Dance by the Vilcek Foundation. He is the recipient of honorary degrees from prestigious universities like the New York University in 2006, Shenandoah University in 2007, and Montclair State University in 2008.
Mikhail Baryshnikov was born a Russian citizen and later became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1986. He got into a relationship with an American actress, Jessica Lange. They ended up having a daughter in 1981, and she was named Aleksandra Baryshnikova. It is widely known that he had romantic relationships with former ballerinas, Natalia Makarova and Gelsey Kirkland. He was in a long-term relationship with former ballerina, writer, and video journalist Lisa Rinehart.