He is often cited alongside Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev and Vladimir Vasiliev as one of the greatest ballet dancers in history.
After a promising start in the Mariinsky Ballet in Leningrad, Mikhail Baryshnikov defected to Canada in 1974 for more opportunities in western dance. After freelancing with many companies, he joined the New York City Ballet as a principal dancer to learn George Balanchine's style of movement. He then danced with the American Ballet Theatre, where he later became artistic director.
Mikhail Baryshnikov has spearheaded many of his own artistic projects and has been associated in particular with promoting modern dance, premiering dozens of new works, including many of his own. His success as a dramatic actor on stage, cinema and television has helped him become probably the most widely recognized contemporary ballet dancer.
In 1977, he received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and a Golden Globe nomination for his work as "Yuri Kopeikine" in the film The Turning Point. He also had a significant role in the last season of the television series Sex and the City and starred in the movie White Nights with Gregory Hines.
Mikhail Baryshnikov was born in Riga, then Latvian SSR, Soviet Union, now Latvia. His parents were Russians: Alexandra (a dressmaker; née Kiselyova) and Nikolay Baryshnikov (an engineer). His mother committed suicide, when he was in his early teens.
He began his ballet studies in Riga in 1960, at the age of 11. In 1964, he entered the Vaganova School, in what was then in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Baryshnikov soon won the top prize in the junior division of the Varna International Ballet Competition. He joined the Mariinsky Ballet, which was then called the Kirov Ballet, in 1967, dancing the "Peasant" pas de deux in Giselle.
Recognizing Mikhail Baryshnikov's talent, in particular the strength of his stage presence and purity of his classical technique, several Soviet choreographers, including Oleg Vinogradov, Konstantin Sergeyev, Igor Tchernichov, and Leonid Jakobson, choreographed ballets for him. Baryshnikov made signature roles of Jakobson's 1969 virtuosic Vestris along with an intensely emotional Albrecht in Giselle. While still in the Soviet Union, he was called by New York Times critic Clive Barnes "the most perfect dancer I have ever seen."
On June 29, 1974, while on tour in Canada with the Mariinsky Ballet, Mikhail Baryshnikov defected, requesting political asylum in Toronto, and joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. He also announced to the dance world he would not go back to the USSR. He later stated that Christina Berlin, an American friend of his, helped engineer his defection during his 1970 tour of London. His first televised performance after coming out of temporary seclusion in Canada was with the National Ballet of Canada in La Sylphide. He then went on to the United States. In December 1975, he and his dance partner Natalia Makarova featured prominently in an episode of the BBC television series Arena.
From 1974 to 1978, Mikhail Baryshnikov was a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), where he partnered with Gelsey Kirkland.
Mikhail Baryshnikov performed with the New York City Ballet as a principal dancer for 15 months from 1978 to 1979.
On July 8, 1978, he made his debut with George Balanchine's and Lincoln Kirstein's company at Saratoga Springs, appearing as Franz in Coppélia. On Oct. 12, 1979, Mr. Baryshnikov danced the role of the Poet in Mr. Balanchine's ballet, “La Sonnambula” with the City Ballet at the Kennedy Center in Washington.
This was Mikhail Baryshnikov's last performance with New York City Ballet due to a tendinitis and other injuries. His tenure there coincided with a period of ill health for him that followed an earlier heart attack and culminated in successful heart surgery in June 1979. Mikhail Baryshnikov left the company because he was going to leave anyway to become artistic director of American Ballet Theater on 1 September 1980, and now needed time off because of his injuries. The parting was, by all accounts, a friendly one.
Mikhail Baryshnikov worked with George Balanchine and as a regular guest artist with the Royal Ballet.
Mikhail Baryshnikov also toured with ballet and modern dance companies around the world for fifteen months. Several roles were created for him, including roles Opus 19: The Dreamer (1979), by Jerome Robbins, Rhapsody (1980), by Frederick Ashton, and Other Dances with Natalia Makarova by Jerome Robbins.
Mikhail Baryshnikov returned to ABT in September 1980 as an artistic director, a position he held for nearly a decade. He still performed as a dancer as well. In 1989, he quit in anger after they fired his right-hand man Charles France.
On July 3, 1986, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. From 1990 to 2002, Baryshnikov was artistic director of the White Oak Dance Project, a touring company he co-founded with Mark Morris. In 2003, he won the Prix Benois de la Danse for lifetime achievement. In 2005 he launched the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York. In 2012, Baryshnikov received the Vilcek Prize in Dance.
On April 27, 2017, Baryshnikov was granted citizenship by the Republic of Latvia for extraordinary merits. The application to the Latvian parliament along with a letter from Baryshnikov in which he expressed his wish to become a citizen of what today constitutes his native country was submitted on December 21, 2016. He stated that the decision was based on memories of his first 16 years living in Latvia, which provided the basis for the rest of his life. "It was there that my exposure to the arts led me to discover my future destiny as a performer. Riga still serves as a place where I find artistic inspiration," Baryshnikov wrote in the letter to the Latvian parliament.
Baryshnikov's talent was obvious from his youth, but being 5 ft 5in (165 cm) tall, maybe 5 ft 6in (168 cm), thus, shorter than most dancers, he could not tower over a ballerina en pointe and was therefore relegated to secondary parts. More frustrating to him, the Soviet dance world hewed closely to 19th-century traditions and deliberately shunned the creative choreographers of the West, whose work Baryshnikov glimpsed in occasional tours and films. Mikhail Baryshnikov's main goal in leaving the Soviet Union was to work with these innovators.
In the first two years after his defection, he danced for no fewer than 13 different choreographers, including Jerome Robbins, Glen Tetley, Alvin Ailey, and Twyla Tharp.
"It doesn't matter if every ballet is a success or not," he told New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff in 1976, "The new experience gives me a lot." He cited his fascination with the ways Ailey mixed classical and modern technique and his initial discomfort when Tharp insisted he incorporate eccentric personal gestures in the dance.
In 1978, he abandoned his freelance career to spend 18 months as a principal of the New York City Ballet, run by the legendary George Balanchine.
"Mr. B," as he was known, rarely welcomed guest artists and had refused to work with both Nureyev and Makarova. Baryshnikov's decision to devote his full attentions to the New York company stunned the dance world. Balanchine never created a new work for Baryshnikov, though he did coach the young dancer in his distinctive style, and Baryshnikov triumphed in such signature roles as Apollo, The Prodigal Son, and Rubies.
Jerome Robbins did, however, create Opus 19/The Dreamer for Baryshnikov and NYCB favorite Patricia McBride.
In 1980, he became Artistic Director of American Ballet Theatre and his role changed from performer to director. However, in 1989, he left when the company went behind his back and fired his second-in-command Charles France.
Nevertheless, Mikhail Baryshnikov's fascination with the new has stood him in good stead. As he observed, "It doesn't matter how high you lift your leg. The technique is about transparency, simplicity and making an earnest attempt.”
The White Oak Project was formed to create original work for older dancers. In a run ending just short of his 60th birthday in 2007, he appeared in a production of four short plays by Samuel Beckett staged by avant-garde director JoAnne Akalaitis.
Mikhail Baryshnikov was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1999. In 2000, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
He has received three Honorary Degrees: on May 11, 2006, from New York University; on September 28, 2007, from Shenandoah Conservatory of Shenandoah University; and on May 23, 2008, from Montclair State University.
For the duration of the 2006 Summer, Mikhail Baryshnikov went on tour with Hell's Kitchen Dance, which was sponsored by the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Featuring works by Baryshnikov Arts Center residents Azsure Barton and Benjamin Millepied, the company toured the United States and Spain.
In late August 2007, Baryshnikov performed Mats Ek's Place (original Swedish title, Ställe) with Ana Laguna at Dansens Hus in Stockholm.
Mikhail Baryshnikov has performed in Israel three times: in 1996, when he appeared with the White Oak Dance Project at the Roman amphitheater in Caesarea; in 2010, when he performed with Ana Laguna; and in 2011, when he starred in nine performances of "In Paris" at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv. In an interview to Haaretz newspaper in 2011, he expressed his opposition to artistic boycotts of Israel and described the enthusiasm of Israeli contemporary dance as astounding.
Mikhail Baryshnikov made his American television dancing debut in 1976, on the PBS program In Performance Live from Wolf Trap. The program is currently distributed on DVD by Kultur Video.
During the Christmas season of 1977, CBS brought his highly acclaimed American Ballet Theatre production of Tchaikovsky's classic ballet The Nutcracker to television, and it has remained to this day the most popular and most often shown television production of the work, at least in the U.S. In addition to Baryshnikov in the title role, Gelsey Kirkland, Alexander Minz, and many members of the American Ballet Theatre also starred. The production was videotaped in Canada. After being shown a few times by CBS, it moved to PBS, where it was shown annually every Christmas season for many years, and still is by some PBS stations. It was first released on DVD by MGM/UA. The remastered DVD of the performance, issued by Kultur Video in 2004, is a bestseller during the Christmas season. The DVD has now been released in the UK by Digital Classics.
Although Tchaikovsky's ballet has been presented on TV many times in many different versions, the Baryshnikov version is one of only two to be nominated for an Emmy Award. The other one was Mark Morris' "The Hard Nut", Morris's intentionally exaggerated and satirical version of the ballet.
Mikhail Baryshnikov also performed in two Emmy-winning television specials, one on ABC and one on CBS, in which he danced to music from Broadway and Hollywood, respectively. During the 1970s and 1980s, he appeared many times with American Ballet Theatre on Live from Lincoln Center and Great Performances. Over the years, he has also appeared on several telecasts of the Kennedy Center Honors.
Baryshnikov performed in his first film role soon after arriving in New York. He portrayed the character Yuri Kopeikine, a famous Russian womanizing ballet dancer, in the 1977 film The Turning Point, for which he received an Oscar nomination. He co-starred with Gregory Hines and Isabella Rossellini in the 1985 film White Nights, choreographed by Twyla Tharp; and he was featured in the 1987 film Dancers. On television, in the last season of Sex and the City, he played a Russian artist, Aleksandr Petrovsky, who woos Carrie Bradshaw relentlessly and takes her to Paris. He co-starred in Company Business (1991) with Gene Hackman.
On November 2, 2006, Mikhail Baryshnikov and chef Alice Waters were featured on an episode of the Sundance Channel's original series Iconoclasts. The two have a long friendship. They discussed their lifestyles, sources of inspiration, and social projects that make them unique. During the program, Alice Waters visited Baryshnikov's Arts Center in New York City. The Hell's Kitchen Dance tour brought him to Berkeley to visit Alice Waters' restaurant Chez Panisse. On July 17, 2007, the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer featured a profile of Baryshnikov and his Arts Center. Baryshnikov appears, uncredited, in the 2014 film Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit as Interior Minister Sorokin.
In a continuation of his interest in modern dance, Mikhail Baryshnikov appeared in 2015 in a three-and-a-half minute commercial for the clothing designer Rag & Bone along with the street dance artist Lil Buck with both performing dance roles.
Mikhail Baryshnikov is a performer in avant-garde theater. In 2004 he appeared in Forbidden Christmas or The Doctor And The Patient at New York City's Lincoln Center, and in 2007 in Beckett Shorts at New York Theatre Workshop.
On April 11–21, 2012, Mikhail Baryshnikov starred in a new play directed by Dmitry Krymov, titled In Paris. The play was presented in the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, at the Broad Stage. His co-star was Anna Sinyakina.
He then appeared in the stage adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Man in a Case. As he said:
"I grew up reading Chekhov's stories and plays. I have wanted to explore a Chekhov story for the stage for some time and I'm delighted to bring Man in a Case to Berkeley Rep. Both tales are about solitary men and their self-imposed restrictions. We know very little about the character in the first story, 'Man in a Case,' except that he teaches classical Greek and he's kind of eccentric and conservative. But then something happens to him that is unexpected. The second story, 'About Love,' provides an arresting contrast to the first work. At their core both stories are about love. And I think it's a romantic show in many respects that is perfect for Berkeley Rep's audience."
On April 21, 2015, The New York Times reported that Baryshnikov was scheduled to perform a reading of the Nobel Laureate poet Joseph Brodsky in Baryshnikov's native Riga in 2015. The performance was called “Brodsky/Baryshnikov,” was performed in the original Russian, and had its premiere in Riga on Oct. 15, 2015. Its international tour began in Tel Aviv in January 2016 and it was later staged in New York City in March, 2016, still in the original Russian. Mr. Baryshnikov met Mr. Brodsky in 1974, soon after the poet had been forced by the Soviet authorities to leave his home country and had moved to the United States, and remained close to him until his (Brodsky's) death in 1996."
Baryshnikov has a daughter, Aleksandra Baryshnikova (born 1981), from his relationship with actress Jessica Lange. When Baryshnikov and Lange met, he spoke very little English; they communicated in French instead. He eventually learned English by watching television.
Baryshnikov is in a long-term relationship with former ballerina Lisa Rinehart. They have three children together: Peter (born July 7, 1989), Anna (born May 22, 1992), and Sofia (born May 24, 1994). Though he told Larry King in 2002 that he did not "believe in marriage in the conventional way", he and Rinehart legally married in 2006.Franz in Coppélia
Albrecht in Giselle
1966 Varna International Ballet Competition (gold medal, junior division)
1969 Moscow International Ballet Competition (gold medal)
1969 Nijinsky Prize, Paris Academy of Dance, for performance in Vestris.
1977 Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for The Turning Point.
1977 Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor, Academy of Foreign Film Press for The Turning Point.
1978 Award from Dance magazine.
1979 D.F.A. from Yale University.
2000 Kennedy Center Honor.
2004 Jerome Robbins Prize.
2005 National Arts Award.
2006 George and Judy Marcus Prize for Lifetime Achievement.
2006 Honorary degree from New York University.
2007 Honorary degree from Shenandoah University Conservatory.
2008 Honorary degree from Montclair State University.
Also appeared in "Prodigal Son," "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux," and "Other Dances," all Dance in America, PBS; Baryshnikov: The Dancer and the Dance, PBS; and Carmen, on French television.
SeriesThe Magic of Dance, 1982
Host, Stories from My Childhood (also known as Mikhail Baryshnikov's Stories from My Childhood), 1997
Television Work SeriesProducer, Stories from My Childhood (also known as Mikhail Baryshnikov's Stories from My Childhood), 1997
Television Artistic Director SpecialsDance in America: Baryshnikov by Tharp with the American Ballet Theatre, PBS, 1984
Television Choreographer SpecialsThe Nutcracker, CBS, 1977
"Celebrating Gershwin," Great Performances, PBS, 1987