Mikhail Baryshnikov

On this date in 1948, Mikhail Nikolaevitch Baryshnikov was born in Riga, Latvia. His father, Nikolai Baryshnikov, was an engineer and his mother, Aleksandra Kiseleva, was a seamstress, who introduced him to ballet when he was nine. A strong athlete, Baryshnikov played sports in school in addition to ballet, but turned completely toward ballet when he was 12, after his mother committed suicide. At 15, he began studying with the Kirov Ballet, where he stayed for the next five years, under the direction of Alexander Pushkin. Baryshnikov became principal dancer at the age of 21 and began earning recognition for his strong technique and gravity-defying leaps, which were to later become his trademark. While on tour in Canada at age 26, he defected to America. Granted political asylum, Baryshnikov began working as principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in New York, where he stayed for five years, before joining the New York City Ballet. Working under George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, he expanded his repertoire, as well as the role of male dancers in ballet. He then returned to ABT as principal dancer as well as artistic director, a position he held for ten years. Always seeking to enlarge the frontier of ballet, in 1990 he teamed with choreographer Mark Morris to cofound the White Oak Dance Project and, in 2005, opened The Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC) in New York; a place created to support artists in all areas, both novice and master, under one roof. Observing that the challenge of dancing different choregraphies and styles is similar to learning a new language, Baryshnikov writes, "every ballet, whether or not successful artistically or with the public, has given me something important. Everything that I've done has given me more freedom" (Baryshnikov At Work, by Mikhail Baryshnikov, Knopf 1978). In addition to dance, Baryshnikov has appeared in film (Turning Point, 1977, and White Nights, 1985), on Broadway ("Metamorphosis"), and on television, most recently appearing in a regular role on HBO's hit "Sex In the City." Among his several honors, Baryshnikov has been awarded the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award (2000), Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Actor in a Play (1989), Theatre World Special Award (1989), an Emmy for Outstanding Variety or Music Program (1979-1980), an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement-Special Events (1978-1979) and an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (1977). Baryshnikov has four children, the oldest with actress Jessica Lange, the three youngest with his partner dancer, Lisa Rinehart. They currently live in New York.

“I don't believe in marriage in the conventional way. I am not religious person, and marriage in front of altar wouldn't say anything to me.”

—The Larry King Show (May 5, 2002)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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