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Also Known As: Mikhail Nikolaievich Baryshnikov, Misha Baryshnikov Died:
Born: January 27, 1948 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Riga, LV Profession: dancer, choreographer, actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Although many articles on Mikhail Baryshnikov have described the melancholy look in his eyes and attributed it to his exile from Mother Russia, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the ten years spent in his homeland were the most frustrating of his life, as the artist in him chafed against the rigidness of the Soviet state. Born in Riga, Latvia to Russian parents (his curt, cold father was a soldier of occupation), Baryshnikov ostensibly began his life in exile. His mother, who introduced him to ballet at the age of 9, committed suicide when he was 12, causing him to fall back completely on himself to develop the singular focus of the committed dancer. The purity of his ballet technique, the virtuosity of his split leaps and cyclonic pirouettes that did not compromise it and the fullness of his ambition combined to make Baryshnikov the preeminent dancer of the late 20th Century. His appearances in movies and his high-profile romances heightened his allure and turned him into the first electronic-media ballet star, his fame surpassing that of the ground-breaking Rudolph Nureyev, who had preceded him. Baryshnikov first set foot on Russian soil as a 16-year-old member of the Latvian...

Although many articles on Mikhail Baryshnikov have described the melancholy look in his eyes and attributed it to his exile from Mother Russia, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the ten years spent in his homeland were the most frustrating of his life, as the artist in him chafed against the rigidness of the Soviet state. Born in Riga, Latvia to Russian parents (his curt, cold father was a soldier of occupation), Baryshnikov ostensibly began his life in exile. His mother, who introduced him to ballet at the age of 9, committed suicide when he was 12, causing him to fall back completely on himself to develop the singular focus of the committed dancer. The purity of his ballet technique, the virtuosity of his split leaps and cyclonic pirouettes that did not compromise it and the fullness of his ambition combined to make Baryshnikov the preeminent dancer of the late 20th Century. His appearances in movies and his high-profile romances heightened his allure and turned him into the first electronic-media ballet star, his fame surpassing that of the ground-breaking Rudolph Nureyev, who had preceded him.

Baryshnikov first set foot on Russian soil as a 16-year-old member of the Latvian state ballet on tour in Leningrad. A company member took him to Alexander Pushkin, the revered teacher of the Kirov Ballet's school, who immediately asked the school's director to admit the boy. Next to his mother, Pushkin was probably the most important person in Baryshnikov's early life, providing classical training and the crucible for developing individuality, anathema of Communist politics. The kindly teacher and his wife became surrogate parents to Baryshnikov, taking him into their home as they had Nureyev before him. By the time of his Kirov debut, the company, reacting to a society-wide stiffening after the Krushchev "thaw" and shaken by Nureyev's defection, was going through a period of repression. Its stifling repertory of 19th Century classics and socialist doggerel left the artist in Baryshnikov, champing at the bit to dance new, modern ballets, little choice but to defect, which he did while touring Canada in 1974.

Baryshnikov blossomed in the West, becoming star of the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) from 1974-78, where Twyla Tharp created a series of ballets ideally suited to him, attempting to marry ballet, so outward and perfect, to the inwardness of jazz. Tharp's dances emphasized Baryshnikov as a solitary figure, allowing him nuanced, internalized moments side by side with his spectacular classical virtuosity, and influenced subsequent choreographers. The more he became that kind of dancer--inward, alone--the more they made that kind of dance for him. He joined George Balanchine's New York City Ballet for fifteen extraordinarily creative months, learning 20-odd roles, including Balanchine's "Apollo" and "Prodigal Son", which seemed tailor-made for him. Baryshnikov had found another father figure, but Balanchine's health was already failing. When the ABT lured him back with an invitation to become artistic director, he accepted the offer with Balanchine's blessing. Baryshnikov rebelled against the company's old stars-and-classics order just as he had the inflexibility at the Kirov, and those who accused him of trying to turn ABT into City Ballet were partly right.

Television (particularly PBS) and film introduced the three-time Emmy-winner to the world beyond NYC, and though a charismatic screen presence, Baryshnikov's greatest contributions to such movies as "The Turning Point" (1977) and "White Nights" (1985) were his dancing and choreography, although he earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for the former. He broke new ground with his Broadway debut as Gregor Samsa in "Metamorphosis" (1989), adapted from the Franz Kafka novel, earning a Tony nomination as Best Actor in a Play. Following his tenure as artistic director at ABT (1980-89), Baryshnikov founded (with Mark Morris) the White Oak Dance Project, a modern dance company, in 1990 and still leads and dances with the troupe despite various injuries and knee surgeries. Though past his peak, Baryshnikov remains a superstar of dance, but he wears his fame loosely, moving almost unrecognized through the NYC streets. The perennial exile, forever a guest in Latvia and Russia, has found a home in his adopted country, so that melancholy gaze is just the look of a serious, contemplative artist.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Mystere Babilee, Le (2001) Himself
2.
 Company Business (1991) Pyiotr Grushenko
3.
4.
 Dancers (1987) Tony Sergeyev
5.
 That'S Dancing! (1985) Narration
6.
 White Nights (1985) Nikolai "Kolya" Rodchenko
8.
 Turning Point, The (1977) Yuri
9.
 Happy to be Nappy And Other Stories of Me (2004) Narrator ("Madlenka")
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1967:
Professional dance debut with Kirov Ballet in the "Peasant Pas de Deux" from "Giselle" at age 19
:
Danced with the Kirov in Soviet Union and on tour
1974:
Defected to Canada
1974:
Member of the American Ballet Theater
1977:
Film acting debut (also choreographer) in "The Turning Point"; received Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination
1977:
Choreographed and starred in the CBS TV production of "The Nutcracker"
:
Moved to George Balanchine's New York City Ballet; learned 20-odd roles, perhaps most notably "Apollo" and "Prodigal Son"
1980:
Headlined the acclaimed variety special "Baryshnikov on Broadway" (ABC)
:
Artistic Director of the American Ballet Theatre (also principal dancer to 1985); had given notice that he would leave in 1990, but quit when they went over his head and fired his second-in-command, Charles France
1982:
Starred in the ABC variety special "Baryshnikov in Hollywood"
1986:
Became a naturalized American citizen on July 3rd
1989:
Broadway acting debut, starring as Gregor Samsa in "Metamorphosis", adapted from the Franz Kafka novel by Steven Berkoff; earned a Tony nomination as Best Actor in a Play
1990:
Co-founded White Oak Dance Project (modern dance) with Mark Morris; named after his philanthropist friend Howard Gilman who built him a rehearsal studio at the Gilman Foundation's White Oak Plantation (FL); tours four months out of the year, and if performances fail to pay the expenses, Baryshnikov writes a check
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Riga School of Choreography: -
Vaganova Choreographic Institute: -

Notes

He received an honorary degree from the University of Toronto in June 1999.

Received the National Award of Merit from US President Bill Clinton (2000).

About his difficult decision to leave Balanchine and City Ballet to become artistic director at American Ballet Theatre:"I went to him and we talked for a long time. We talked for an hour one day, and he said, 'Come back tomorrow.' And he was very, sort of--not encouraging me, but said, 'If you can see what you want to do and can deal with people on the board and you have a clear vision, I think you should do it, take this chance.' He said, 'If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work. You can come back, anytime. This is your home.'" --Mikhail Baryshnikov to The New Yorker, January 19, 1998.

"Working with Balanchine and Jerry [Jerome Robbins] every day--just to see their dedication to the institution, the company, the school. Their seriousness, the seriousness of the whole setup, everything about it. Very different from the world which I come from, government-supported company, or commercially set up company like Ballet Theatre. I learn so much. Something about dance ethics, about being a dancer, and the quality of the work. I learn how and why to respect choreographic vision and morale of theatre. And that was the most important experience. On the surface I was just one of them, and that was fine. But deep inside I experienced extraordinary transformation, and I understand a lot of things, for my future work." --Baryshnikov in The New Yorker, January 19, 1998.

On turning 50: "... I never celebrate my birthdays. I really don't care. Anyway, this is the last part of my life. Life is over. That's it. ... I think if I live for the next 10 years, I'll be happy. And it's nice that I'm still interested in what I do. I'm grateful to whatever there is for allowing me to do things. But life is over, for sure." --Baryshnikov quoted in The New York Times, January 18, 1998.

"You know, the time when I was Misha, that seems a long time ago. I forget how it was then, except that it felt as if I was the machine driving everything. Now my work is more collaborative, much more satisfying. The world where I am now is closer to the reality of people growing older. Maybe it's an illusion, but it's pleasant to think that over the years there's something of more depth and importance to say. I'm not rejecting my past: I have a few remarkable moments in my memory. But I'm prouder of the work that I'm doing now - that's for sure." --Baryshnikov quoted in The Guardian, August 8, 2001.

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Natalia Makarova. Dancer. Kirov's rising young ballerina defected while company was performing in London in 1970; no longer together at time of defection.
companion:
Jessica Lange. Actor. No longer together; mother of Baryshnikov'd eldest child.
companion:
Gelsey Kirkland. Dancer. Left New York City Ballet to become his partner at American Ballet Theatre; no longer together.
companion:
Janine Turner. Actor. Dated.
companion:
Lisa Rinehart. Dancer. Mother of three of Baryshnikov's children; ballerina with the American Ballet Theater.
VIEW COMPLETE COMPANION LISTING

Family close complete family listing

mother:
Aleksandra Kiseleva. Russian; hanged herself when Baryshnikov was 12.
father:
Nikolai Baryshnikov. Military officer. Russian; sent to Riga, Latvia to teach military topography in the Air Force academy; remarried after Aleksandra's suicide.
half-brother:
Vladimir. Son from Aleksandra's first marriage; born c. 1940; discovered mother's suicide.
daughter:
Aleksandra Baryshnikov. Born c. 1981; lives with mother Jessica Lange.
son:
Peter Baryshnikov. Born c. 1989; mother, dancer Lisa Rinehart.
daughter:
Anna Katerina Baryshnikov. Born on May 22, 1992; mother, Lisa Rinehart.
daughter:
Sofia-Luisa Baryshnikov. Born on May 24, 1994; mother, Lisa Rinehart.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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