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Ballet & Dance

Mikhail Baryshnikov – Larger Than Life
 
Mikhail Baryshnikov  was born to a Russian family in Riga, then Latvian SSR. In 1960 he started taking ballet classes, and in just 4 years, a phenomenally short time by the standards of that time, was able to enter the Vaganovka ballet school in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg, Russia). And after just three years the talented youth was able to find an enviable position in the Kirov Ballet, with famous Soviet stage directors creating ballets tailored to "Misha" (his diminutive name), and also join the famous Mariinsky Theater!
 
There, his first head-to-head collision with the Soviet ballet system occurred: he possessed extraordinary skills and undeniable talent, but not an extraordinary posture – he did not tower over the tallest ballerinas and so, for a long time, was denied leading roles. Moreover, while seeing examples of modern ballet while on tours in Europe in 1969-1970, he was disappointed to find resistance to anything non-classical and new in the conservative and fossilized heads of Soviet theater officials.
 
On the other hand, the Western press gave Baryshnikov high praise for his technique and spirit. For example, New York Times published a piece on his performances in Great Britain, calling him "the best ballet dancer [that has ever been]"! This dissonance forced Mikhail to give the idea of emigration (more like a defection by that time's standards) a good think...
 
What followed was more like a spy movie... After four years careful planning and preparation, carried out with friends (coconspirators from the Soviet point of view) he made in Great Britain during one of his tours in 1970, he defected while dancing in Toronto and received political asylum in Canada. Soon, he would move to the United States and start dancing first for New York City Ballet, under the legendary George Balanchine (who was said to refuse working even with the likes of Nureyev and Makarova), and then for the American Ballet Theater (ABT).
 
In his new homeland, having gained the long-sought creative freedom, Baryshnikov danced for no fewer than 13 (!) different choreographers, including Jerome Robbins, Glen Tetley, Alvin Ailey, and Twyla Tharp! Later he became the artistic director of ABT, opened his own school of dance, and continued mentoring promising young dancers. 
 
What's more, he used his freedom to the fullest, performing in Hollywood movies – including parts that were clearly way out of his usual classical routines: the cult expressive dance to Vladimir Vysotsky's song, the Broadway dance with Liza Minelli, and the modern dance with Gregory Hines in White Nights.
 
Unlike many an exiled artist, Baryshnikov, with his turbulent, sometimes hard-knock and even dangerous fate, managed to find happiness in his personal life. He has a daughter from his relationship with actress Jessica Lange, and three children from former ballerina Lisa Rinehart, who has been his wife since 2006. 
 
Baryshnikov has become something more than "just" an extraordinary ballet dancer, a true media personality known to every American. This is, in part, due to his many roles (or just cameos) in movies and TV films. In 1977, he received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and a Golden Globe nomination for his work in The Turning Point; not long ago he played a significant – and quite unusual for him - role in the hit television series Sex and the City. And in 2000 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts during a ceremony with then-president Bill Clinton...
 
Sources:
"Biography of Mikhail Baryshnikov". John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. 
Makarova, Natalia (November 12, 1979). A Dance Autobiography. Alfred A. Knopf. 
 

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