Mikhail Baryshnikov: Freedom, Development and Creativity

Mikhail Baryshnikov: Freedom, Development and Creativity

A Soviet dancer and artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre, Honored Artist of the RSFSR and Oscar nominee. All this is about one person who has made a significant contribution to world culture.

Born in the USSR

Mikhail Baryshnikov was born in Riga on January 27, 1948, into an ordinary Soviet family. His childhood was not trouble-free. The father, a military man, wasn’t a part of the kid's life, and the mother, who promoted a love of art in little Misha, committed suicide when he was 12 years old.

Mikhail chose his destiny himself by entering the Riga Choreographic School. Later, the talented student was recommended to move to the northern capital. And he continued his studies at the Leningrad Choreographic School with Alexander Pushkin. 

In 1967, Baryshnikov joined the Kirov Opera and Ballet Theater in Leningrad. Unique professional capabilities and artistry made Mikhail one of the leading dancers of the theater. At the age of 25 he was awarded the title of Honored Artist of the RSFSR.

Despite his absolute talent, it was difficult for Baryshnikov to break into the world of Soviet ballet and dance the parts he dreamed of. He always wanted more: to develop, to become part of the world ballet. But in the 1970s it was impossible in the USSR.  

He chooses freedom

In the summer of 1974, during a tour of the Bolshoi Theater in Canada, Mikhail Baryshnikov received an invitation to join the American Ballet Theatre. 

Before the final performance in Toronto, he met with a lawyer and signed a request for political asylum. After the performance, Mikhail was giving autographs, chatting with his fans, joking. And suddenly he ran. He jumped into a moving car of his friends, who took him to a safe place. Baryshnikov managed to escape from the KGB officers who were with him the whole time.


“Losing them wasn't the hardest part. It was much harder during the performance. I came to the theater and was dancing the whole night, knowing perfectly well that there was no way back. And when I ran, I just didn’t feel my feet under me, there was only fear and emptiness in my stomach,” Baryshnikov said in an interview.

Despite all the worries, America accepted Mikhail immediately and forever. After the first performance at the Metropolitan Opera, the audience didn’t let the artist go calling him on stage over 20 times.

Creativity and development

Since 1974, Mikhail Baryshnikov had been a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. As he had dreamed, he was dancing not only classical, but also modern productions. In 1980, Baryshnikov became an artistic director of the theater and built a strong stable ballet company with a corps de ballet, raised soloists. 

In 1989, Mikhail left the theater and founded his own contemporary dance company, the White Oak Dance Project. Leaving the world of classical ballet, Baryshnikov discovered the world of modernity, in which he developed to the fullest. 

In 2005, Mikhail Nikolaevich opened the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York - it has become a creative space for artists: dancers, musicians, actors. Nowadays, the Center supports creative projects around the world. 

Love in the great dancer’s life

Baryshnikov doesn’t like to talk about his personal life. Rumor has it that he had affairs with Liza Minnelli, Isabella Rossellini and Sharon Stone.

Mikhail's first wife was American actress Jessica Lange, known to the modern audience for her role in the TV series American Horror Story. In this marriage, the couple had a daughter, Alexandra.

Now, Mikhail Baryshnikov is married to dancer Lisa Rinehart, they have three children.  

Not by dance alone

Baryshnikov fulfilled himself not only as a dancer and choreographer, but also as an actor. In 1977, he took part in the film The Turning Point as a ballet star and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. A few years later, he played the role of an artist escaping from Soviet power in the film White Nights. In 1989, he participated in the Broadway production of The Metamorphosis, based on Kafka's story of the same name. In total, the great dancer has several dozen cinematic and theatrical projects in his arsenal.

In the early 2000s, Baryshnikov starred in the iconic series Sex and the City, where, according to the script, he became one of the boyfriends of the main character, who called him “my Russian”. 

He is also seriously interested in the art of photography and collects paintings. 

Equal among the greats

In 2000, in Washington, Mikhail Baryshnikov received a prestigious award for his special contribution to American culture. Actor Clint Eastwood, rock guitarist Chuck Berry, actress Angela Lansbury, opera singer Placido Domingo got the award in the same year. All of them received awards from US President Bill Clinton.

No nostalgia  

Baryshnikov doesn’t miss the country he left and has no plans to return. He even rejects proposals for tours in Russia and the post-Soviet space! His whole life - professional and personal - is connected exclusively with the United States.