Boyishly cute, diminutive and strong as a bull, but as graceful as any gazelle or swan, Mikhail Baryshnikov is a household name even to non-balletomanes. Widely considered to be one of the greatest and biggest names in dance.
Mikhail began his ballet studies in his native Riga, Latvia. He was accepted by the Leningrad Choreographic School, the associate school of the Kirov Ballet. One of his instructors there was Alexander Pushkin, who had taught Rudolf Nureyev - who defected in Paris and was already making a name for himself in America. Among Baryshnikov's friends at the school were Alexander Godunov (nicknamed Sasha) and "ballerina assoluta" Natalia Makarova.
Misha joined the Kirov Ballet of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and his technique and balletic abilities were so great, he skipped the corps and was immediately put in a soloist position.
While Misha was doing quite well in Russia, even finding an audience fanbase, the government and dance seemed to be too limiting and frustrating for him. Like other Russian dancers before him and after him, he would soon defect.
When the Kirov was touring in Canada, Misha defected and then quickly became a member of the National Ballet of Canada. He joined the American Ballet Theatre later on and became one of the company's principal dancers. He and Gelsey Kirkland (of New York City Ballet - whom he met in Russia and asked to partner him) - had a celebrated and legendary partnership. Gelsey had left NYCB to dance with him.
Kirkland claimed she saw him dance with the Kirov Ballet before he defected. When she first saw him, his 5' 7"-inch frame and adolescent personality and appearance seemed disappointing and disillusioning. But then he leaped onto the floor and she was blown away. He danced "like a literal moving picture". His grace, his lightness, his movement, his leaps ... she made a judgment there and then. "He was the greatest male dancer on the earth."
She fell in love with him - or rather, his dancing. They had a legendary partnership, almost two peas in a pod they were. They danced frequently together. But perhaps their most well-known work was Baryshnikov's version of Tchaikovsky's ballet "The Nutcracker," which was filmed in Canada and televised, first by CBS, then later by PBS annually for years.
Later that year, he also made his film debut in "The Turning Point" (1977)_. He played a tailor-made role as Yuri, a superstar ballet defector from Russia who beds more ballerinas than he dances with. The movie was nominated for 11 Oscars, including one for Misha.
Gelsey was also slated to co-star, but she wanted "no part of Hollywood." The relationship between the Russian defector and the young American ballerina seemed based on their relationship. She hated the character and the script by Arthur Laurents (which she called "a soap opera"). She claimed the movie had "nothing to do with either the art or the reality of ballet". She made herself very sick so she had an excuse to bow out. She was replaced by Leslie Browne, another ABT dancer.
Kirkland was as much a great ballerina as she was a disturbed person. She was extremely difficult. She became possessive. She idolized Misha and obsessed over every detail. Eventually they broke up.
Misha had idolized George Balanchine, the great choreographer and ballet master of the early 20th century. Balanchine was an innovator of modern ballet. He had turned ballet into a combination of art, Olympic sport and acrobatic endeavor. Misha, who idolized him and what he did, left ABT briefly for the chance to work under him and learn his choreography.
Balanchine thought most Russian dance defectors were prima donnas; he preferred the choreography to be the star attraction. Of Misha, Balanchine said: "He is a very good dancer. He has good feet."
Misha danced "Prodigal Son" and numerous other ballets at NYCB under Balanchine's direction and continued with NYCB for a year and a half, until he was offered the position of Artistic Director at ABT. He also briefly resumed the role of principal dancer. Misha quit ballet because of injuries. Later he co-founded the White Oak Dance Project.
Ballet dancer turned actor
Father of four children. He lives with girlfriend Lisa Rinehart.
Following his defection in Canada, the first ballet troupe that he performed with was the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Mikhail was a 2000 recipient of the John F. Kennedy Center Honors.
Children by Lisa Rinehart: Peter Andrew (born 1989), Anna Katerina (born May 22nd 1992) and Sofia-Luisa (born May 24th 1994).
Has his own clothing line: "Baryshnikov", plus his own perfume brand: "Misha".
Danced with the Kirov Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet.
Was artistic director with ABT and even ran his own class outside of ABT - Mikhail Baryshnikov's School of Classic Ballet.
Frequently attended legendary New York disco Studio 54.
Was nominated for Broadway's 1989 Tony Award as Best Actor (Play) for "Metamorphosis."
When he met Jessica Lange, he spoke little English. Fortunately for him, Lange spoke French, which he could speak fluently.
He had a romantic relationship with fellow Soviet defector and prima ballerina assoluta Natasha Makarova. She was eight years his senior. She ended it because of this fact and when she needed him back as a sympathetic shoulder to cry on, Baryshnikov was already involved with another young ballerina named Gelsey Kirkland.
His name in English means "Michael."
He was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts in 2000 by the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington D.C.
He appeared in three of the ballet programs which were Emmy-nominated for "Outstanding Classical Program in the Performing Arts" in the same year - "Giselle", "American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House", and "The Nutcracker". "Giselle" was the one that took home the Emmy, but "The Nutcracker" remains the one that has most often been shown and is consistently the most popular. The other two have not even been released on video or DVD, due to a royalties dispute about all "Live From Lincoln Center" programs.
His and Jessica Lange's daughter is Aleksandra (born 1981).
Hobby is golf.
Owner of ballet troupe, "White Oak Dance Project".
Taught by ballet instructor Bella Kovarsky when he was a child.
I am not the first straight dancer, nor the last.
There comes a moment in a young artist's life when he knows he has to bring something to the stage from within himself. He has to put in something in order to be able to take something out.
I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to to dance better than myself.
The essence of all art is to have pleasure in giving pleasure.
[on the late Fred Astaire] "No dancer can watch him and not know that all the rest of us should be in a different business. Astaire is remote. It's as if he were in an incubator, breathing his own air. His perfection is like crystal: you can see through it. It's hopeless to try and imitate him."
No one is born a dancer. You have to want it more than anything.
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.
Dancers are made, not born.
I think I got disappointed over the years about New York, about the States. You know, sometimes you go and visit Europe and see good old socialism in its good part! You see public concern about art, and young people's participation and young faces in the audience. Then you arrive in the States and it is $150 to go to an opera. Ridiculous. We have so much young talent on the streets, but because everything is commercial they finally drift away from their dream of their life. - The Daily Telegraph, 09/02/2004
That somebody has the vision to put a few steps together and make a dance out of it, there is already a certain power implanted. My job is much easier - it's just to put a light in it. - The Daily Telegraph, 09/02/2004
Oh, that's nonsense. Sex symbol? A cup of tea will do it. Sex is overrated. Absolutely. Forget about it. A good golf game, a nice conversation with friends, will do better. - On what it is like to be an international sex symbol.
[on being directed by Dmitry Krymov in a play, 2011] I myself didn't agree with many of his choices. But I am not entitled to raise my objections. It's the same with a choreographer. If you commit, you should be a good foot soldier. This is not the place to be a general.
[on the difficulty of acting in front of the camera, encountered while working on _White Nights (1985)_, and the help he received from acting coach Sandra Seacat, whom he'd met earlier through Jessica Lange, from 12/6/85 Washington Post profile] One of the main things was she helped me relax in front of the camera. The best acting I did on the set was in the improvisations before the takes - that gave me real satisfaction. But keeping the level when the camera was going, that was completely something else. Technicians placing the camera, the director behind you, your throat is dry, and you're trying to forget everything, all distractions, and ask yourself what is this scene really about - that's when the hard work starts.
(December 2007) Appearing in dramatic roles in a series of one-act plays by Samuel Beckett, at the New York Theater Workshop.
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