Mikhail Baryshnikov

On this date in 1948, Mikhail Nikolaevitch Baryshnikov was born in Riga, Latvia. His father was an engineer and his mother was a seamstress who introduced him to ballet when he was 9. A strong athlete, Baryshnikov played sports in school 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.

He became Kirov's principal dancer at age 21 and began earning recognition for his strong technique and gravity-defying leaps. 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 10 years.

In 1990 he teamed with choreographer Mark Morris to found the White Oak Dance Project and, in 2005, opened the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York. Observing that the challenge of dancing different choregraphies and styles is similar to learning a new language, Baryshnikov wrote in his 1976 autobiography, "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).

He has appeared in the films "Turning Point" (1977) and "White Nights" (1985), on Broadway ("Metamorphosis") and on television, in a regular role on HBO's "Sex and the City." Baryshnikov has been awarded the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award (2000), Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Actor in a Play (1989), an Emmy for Outstanding Variety or Music Program (1979-80), an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement-Special Events (1978-79) and an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (1977).

Baryshnikov has four children, the oldest with actress Jessica Lange and the three youngest with ballerina Lisa Rinehart. They married in 2006 and live in New York as of this writing.

Photo by the Knight Foundation licensed under CC BY 2.0,

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

—interview, CNN "Larry King Weekend" (May 5, 2002)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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