Mikhail Baryshnikov is a Russian-American ballet dancer who choreographed several iconic pieces which have made him one of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century.
Mikhail Baryshnikov was born in Latvia in 1948. An experienced and respected ballet dancer in the Soviet Union during the 1960s, Baryshnikov was a beloved part of his nation. Unfortunately, the feelings weren’t mutual at the time. He defected from the Soviet Union to Canada in 1974 before moving to the United States in hopes of having a better opportunity to express himself creatively. His technique transcended any cultural barriers he experienced through immigrating, as Americans loved his precision and grace as a ballet dancer just as the Soviets did. Baryshnikov worked with the American Ballet Theatre until 1978 before becoming its artistic director in the ’80s.
Early Life and Career
Born in Riga, Latvia, on January 27, 1948, Mikhail Nikolaevich Baryshnikov went on to become one of the leading dancers of the 20th century. Baryshnikov’s early years were difficult. His father was a Soviet colonel, and the two didn’t get along. As he explained to The New York Times, his father “was not a very pleasant man.” However, Baryshnikov later drew inspiration from his father. “His mannerisms, his military habits, I put them in my interpretation,” the dancer once said.
In his early teens, Baryshnikov lost his mother to suicide. He began studying ballet around this same time, and in 1963, at the age of 16, began training with distinguished choreographer Alexander Pushkin at the Vaganova Choreographic Institute.
In 1967, Baryshnikov made his stage debut with the Kirov Ballet in Giselle, later starring as the dance company’s premier danseur noble in Gorianka (1968) and Vestris (1969). Choreographer Leonid Jakobson is said to have tailored Vestris to suit Baryshnikov specifically. The work is now considered to be one of the dancer’s signature pieces. Baryshnikov landed his first major honor in 1966, winning a gold medal at the Varna, Bulgaria, dance competition, and went on to win another gold medal at the First International Ballet Competition in Moscow in 1969.
Dazzling audiences with his astounding physical and technical skills as well as his emotional expressiveness, Baryshnikov’s fame quickly grew. By the late 1960s, he was one of the Soviet Union’s leading ballet dancers.