Mikhail Baryshnikov - The Life of an Extraordinary Dancer

Mikhail Nikolaevitch Baryshnikov is well known for his many talents in the arts. He is famous and has many times been called the “world’s greatest living male ballet dancer". In fact Clive Barnes, a critic, called him “the most perfect dancer I have ever seen”. It doesn’t stop there, he was also a celebrated choreographer and actor.

Baryshnikov was born to Russian parents in Riga, Latvia in 1948. His father was an engineer and his mother was good with her fingers and so earned money as a seamstress. Unfortunately his mother later on killed herself and so it was left to his grandmother and father to look after the young boy. Mikhail remembers enjoying school and taking part in a lot of sports, one of them being ballet. At that stage though he felt it was too difficult and so didn’t pursue it. At 12 years of age he was enrolled in the School of the Theatre Opera Ballet in Riga where he learned to speak French fluently and how to play the piano. This was soon overtaken by his love for dance and soon he began to follow a dance career.

In 1963 he visited Leningrad and decided to apply to the prestigious Vaganova Ballet Academy. He was admitted into the school and joined Aleksandr Pushkins’ class who had earlier trained Rudolf Nureyev. Once he had completed his studies he joined Leningrad’s Kirov Ballet where he made his professional debut as a soloist in "Giselle". That very same year he won a prestigious gold medal at an international ballet competition in Bulgaria. Again he won a gold medal and the Nijinsky Award in Moscow. He also became one of the youngest dancers to receive the State Award for Merit of the U.S.S.R.

In 1974 he went on a tour with the Kirov Ballet, it was then that Baryshnikov asked for political asylum in Toronto. His first performance in Canada, after coming out of seclusion, was with the National Ballet of Canada during a televised version of the ballet "La Sylphide". Afterwards he went to America. Between 1974 and 1979 he was the main dancer with the American Ballet Theatre and with New York City Ballet. He also went on a world tour with modern dance and ballet companies for fifteen months. In 1980 he went back to American Ballet Theatre as an artistic director and a dancer, which lasted for over a decade. From 1990 to 2002, Baryshnikov was the artistic director of a touring company called White Oak Dance Project. Since 2004 he has been involved with the establishment of the Baryshnikov Arts Center held at a new performing art centre in New York.


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