Mikhail Baryshnikov is the most celebrated artist in the dance world. His extraordinary, enduring talent prompted Time magazine to proclaim him "the greatest living dancer." Rising to stardom in classical ballet, Baryshnikov has pursued his passion for dancing for over 40 years in a range of dance disciplines.A native of Riga, Latvia, Baryshnikov began studying ballet at age nine. As a teenager, he entered the school of the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad, graduating from student to principal dancer in 1969. Baryshnikov danced with the Kirov Ballet for five years, earning acclaim for his technical brilliance, his gravity-defying leaps and his dramatic interpretations of classical roles. In 1974, Baryshnikov, disheartened by the artistic stagnation and limited challenges in Soviet ballet, defected to the West at age 26. He settled in New York City as a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, where his virtuosity and genius awed ballet fans around the world.
In 1979, Baryshnikov moved from Ballet Theater to work with master choreographer, George Balanchine at New York City Ballet. There he broadened his repertoire, learning more than 20 new roles in only 15 months with the company. In 1980, he returned to American Ballet Theatre, serving for 10 years as artistic director and nurturing a new generation of dancers and choreographers. During his tenure with the troupe, he also staged and choreographed four full-length ballets.
Baryshnikov has danced more than 100 different works in his illustrious career, from the classic Giselle and Don Quixote to Twyla Tharp's Push Comes to Shove and George Balanchine's Apollo. He has been a leading guest artist on the world's greatest ballet stages. Most of the world's foremost choreographers have created works especially for him. In addition to his dancing, Baryshnikov proved himself a capable actor, starring in five films, including his Oscar-nominated performance in "The Turning Point." He has appeared numerous times on television, including three Emmy award-winning specials. In 1989, he appeared on Broadway in "Metamorphosis," earning a Tony nomination and a Drama Critics Award.
From 1990-2002, Baryshnikov was director and dancer with White Oak Dance Project, which he co-founded with American choreographer, Mark Morris. White Oak was born of Baryshnikov's desire "to be a driving force in the production of art." The small elite troupe of dancers commissioned and performed new works by emerging choreographers as well as master choreographers. Through White Oak, Baryshnikov used his remarkable talents to expand the repertoire of American modern dance. As the LA Times described him recently, "Baryshnikov has increasingly looked beyond... toward the deepest, most daring frontiers of his art". Baryshnikov has suspended White Oak operations in order to devote his full time and energy to the realization of Baryshnikov Arts Center, which is scheduled to open in summer of 2004.
Baryshnikov Dance Foundation is currently producing and touring his solo dance program, "Solos with Piano or not..." which will travel to over 20 cities in the US and Europe. Among his most recent awards are the Kennedy Center Honors, The National Medal of Honor, Commonwealth Award, and The Chubb Fellowship.
More fun stuff about Mikhail Baryshnikov
Birth name: Mikhail Nikolaevitch Baryshnikov
Height 5' 7" (1.70 m)
Date of birth: 28 January 1948
Place: Riga, Latvia, Soviet Union. [now independent Latvia]
Tragically, Misha suffered a knee injury and eventually had to quit ballet.
Eventually, he stepped down and co-founded the White Oak Dance Project with many other dancers. Many in their 40s and 50s - all run under no director, but as a democracy. Baryshnikov says that he is in great physical condition, but one day he will step down from dancing completely.
He is currently married to Lisa Rinehart.
Ballet dancer turned actor
Father of four children.
Owner of ballet troupe, "White Oak Dance Project".
Hobby is golf.
Baryshnikov's and Jessica Lange's daughter first name is Alexandra.
Following his defection in Canada, the first ballet troupe that he performed with was the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Mikhail was a 2000 recipient of the John F. Kennedy Center Honors.
Children by Lisa Rinehart: Anna Katerina, Sofia Luisa and Peter Andrew.
Has his own clothing line: "Baryshnikov", plus his own perfume brand: "Misha".
Danced with the Bolshoi Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet.
Was artisitic director with ABT and even ran his own class outside of ABT - Mikhail Baryshnikov's School of Classic Ballet.
Was romantically involved with legendary ballerinas Natalya Makarova and Gelsey Kirkland.
Frequently attended legendary New York disco Studio 54.
Was nominated for Broadway's 1989 Tony Award as Best Actor (Play) for "Metamorphosis."
His personal quotes:
"I am not the first straight dancer, nor the last."
"There comes a moment in a young artist's life when he knows he has to bring something to the stage from within himself. He has to put in something in order to be able to take something out."
"I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to to dance better than myself."
"The essence of all art is to have pleasure in giving pleasure."
"No dancer can watch Fred Astaire and not know that we all should have been in another business."
"No one is born a dancer. You have to want it more than anything."
Baryshnikov Joins 'Sex and the City'
Quoting him as saying, "I think it's about time to do something my children can't watch," today's (Wednesday) New York Times reported that Mikhail Baryshnikov has joined HBO's Sex and the City to play Sarah Jessica Parker's new romantic interest. According to the newspaper, Parker herself persuaded the famous dancer to take the role of Alexander Petrovsky, an artist "of extreme importance," for the eight episodes that will conclude the series. When she contacted him, she told the Times, he had never seen the series, so she sent over DVDs and later received a positive reaction from Baryshnikov, who made several suggestions about his character. "He is so lovely and so much fun," Parker told the Times. "He brings passion and star quality and character and myth and legend and skill and talent. I'm over the moon about this."
Jessica Lange To Be a Grandmother
Tootsie star Jessica Lange is celebrating the news that she is to become a grandmother. The 53-year-old actress's daughter Alexandra, 21, whose father is ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, is expecting a baby early next year, with her longtime boyfriend, a fellow student at Vermont's Marlboro College. The parents-to-be are talking about tying the knot before their new child arrives.
An Interview with Mikhail Baryshnikov,Artistic Director, White Oak Dance Project
Gabrielle Barnett, on assignment with Anchorage Daily News, conducted this interview with Mikhail Baryshnikov, prior to the premiere of PASTForward, the White Oak tour. Excerpts from this phone interview were published in the Anchorage Daily News, October 3, 2000.
Gabrielle Barnett: Why begin the PASTForward tour in Anchorage, so far from the center of the dance world?
Mikhail Baryshnikov: What is the center of the dance world really? New York City, Paris… we don’t need them. We need time to prepare a show without pressure. Anchorage can offer us that — a place and time to work. It’s ideal.
Why are you taking such an artistic risk at this point in your career?
It’s not a risk, it’s just fun. It’s what’s left in life, to work with interesting people. To walk across the street is a risk. These works have become classics. They have been approved by time, they are part of history. I want to introduce them to a new generation, to a new audience. The show is not just for dance lovers. We will show the socio-political perspective, the context in which this dance emerged.
What was your introduction to "post-modern dance"? Was it when you performed in Twyla Tharp’s When Push Comes to Shove in 1976, shortly after you came to the United States…
No, Twyla is a solid modern choreographer, not postmodern. Her work is very central, mainstream. Working with her did open up a new world, but David Gordon was my introduction to the postmodern Judson choreographers. I met Gordon in the early ‘80s. I saw the work he was doing at Dance Theater Workshop with the Pick Up Company and Valda Setterfield. I was interested in how he manipulated objects. His work was down to earth and austere. He created material for American Ballet Theatre — Made in USA — and we became friends. I discovered Lucinda Childs and Trisha Brown in the ‘70s and ‘80s – I started to see their shows more and more. I found films of Rainer’s work in the New York Public Library. I met Steve Paxton next. Deborah Hay and Simone Forti came later.
How did you get Yvonne Rainer to choreograph again, after working in film for decades?
I asked her “does this program make sense to you?” She said, “I have a dream list.” Her idea of an evening. No one was hostile, but no one was enthusiastic. Some people wanted to create new work, not restage old material. I asked David Gordon to direct because he is also involved in theater, he has a sharp directorial eye. Then we needed Charles Atlas for the socio-political context; he’s doing a an introductory film. We are looking back, reexamining what was interesting and controversial, what they did, what they wanted to say. The show is about retracking, retracing.
Last June, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, you performed material in Rainer’s After Many Summer Dies the Swan that was originally danced by Valda Setterfield. Is there a story behind your solo?
No, there’s no story. It was Yvonne’s idea to have me dance Valda’s solo. I said yes, I didn’t think about how it would look, what people would think. In PASTForward, we will just do excerpts from Swan. People had longer attention spans in the ‘60s. The works have been abridged to make it easy, more accessible for the TV generation.
Will you stage any brand new pieces in PASTForward?
David Gordon’s For the Love of the Rehearsal is a new piece. And Deborah Hay’s The Whizz.
Which pieces will involve community dancers?
Exit, by Deborah Hay is a community piece. And The Matter by David Gordon.
Have you worked with community dancers before?
Yes, as extras. These will be wonderful pieces for people to participate in.
Can you talk about technique and postmodern dance? Many people assume there is no technique when they don’t see pointed toes and turn-out.
Almost all these choreographers had studied with Cunningham. They took that Cunningham line and put it on a pedestrian level. Extension is not at all important. It doesn’t matter how high you lift your leg. The technique is about transparency, simplicity, making an earnest attempt. That is the performer’s job. The rest is in the hands of the choreographer. It’s a different technique, with different values in performance.
What about choreography? How are postmodern dances structured?
It varies with the choreographer. Hay has a strong sense of structure which she brings to her choreographic material. Lucinda Child’s work is highly structured, every beat is precise, every movement set, we discovered when we reconstructed Carnation. On the other hand, Steve Paxton’s Satisfyin’ Lover allows the performer his own timing within a structure. It presents the performer with the creative dilemma, within a structure, so the performer participates in a simple way in the creative process.
Will you be dancing in PASTForward?
Yes, I will perform Homemade. And Flat, a Steve Paxton solo. And I will do a duet with Deborah Hay.
Deborah Hay is going to dance as well as choreograph and teach workshops?
Yes, she’s still dancing. All the choreographers are in their sixties now, and they’re all active, teaching, dancing. None have retired. It’s amazing how much influence they’ve had.
What challenges did you encounter when you shifted to learning postmodern dance after a lifetime of ballet training?
The challenge is to find the essential elements of dance. What is interesting? What is it about? This is minimalism. We are re-living it with the choreographers.
Many people don’t know how to watch minimalist dance — with no plot, no emotional mood, no metaphor. What do you suggest?
Just sit and open your eyes and open your heart. It’s dance theater. If your only dance experience is the Nutcracker, it will be a shock; hopefully shocking in a good way. You have to participate as an audience member. You have to ask, "what do they want to say? What boundaries are they stretching? What are their politics, their likes and dislikes?" It’s conceptual dance theater, simple theater. But if you want to see girls en pointe and men doing double tours en l’air stay at home. It’s not Sleeping Beauty or Cats. These are not Andrew Lloyd Webber’s kind of cool cats.
How did you plan the production? Did all the Judson choreographers get together for a grand reunion?
No, there was no big reunion. But we did get together in Princeton, with Jennifer Tipton, the lighting designer. We were all there, except Lucinda, she was in Europe. We got together for a few dinners and a few debates. It was an enjoyable process.
Rudolph Nureyev comes to mind as another ballet star who reconstructed dances of the historical avant-garde later in his career. Was his work an influence on you?
No, Nureyev was just interested in classical material. I started much earlier, working with modern choreographers.
What process did you use to reconstruct dances for PASTForward?
It was up to the choreographer. Some people wanted to preserve the piece as it was originally staged. Others wanted to update the work — Homemade was updated in a workshop. Paxton’s pieces are kept the same. Charles Atlas will do a documentary about making PASTForward. There’s not much video material from those days; we will try to document it, for history.
Our time is almost up — is there anything you want to add about PASTForward?
I hope people will come and enjoy the show. It’s fun. Its multi-media. There’s text and film as well as dance. You’ll recognize stuff from the ‘60s.
Stretching His Legs Creatively
At 49, Mikhail Baryshnikov works hard to pursue the rigors of dance, and the best part is he can now do it on his own terms.
A lot of guys who work for 30 years, reach the pinnacle of their profession, achieve icon status, make pots of money and sustain disabling injuries in the line of duty would retire. They'd make cameo appearances, relax, travel.
Mikhail Baryshnikov is not a lot of guys. In 1990, at the age of 42, having resigned as artistic director of American Ballet Theatre in New York, the emigre Russian ballet superstar threw himself--bad knees and all--into a small, touring modern dance company, White Oak Dance Project. The idea was to encounter what was crucial in the art form, to do as much as he could, but only what he liked--to dance on his own terms.
With White Oak, he says, "we're trying to stretch our muscles creatively. It gives us so much more freedom." Days after his 49th birthday in January, in preparation for the company's 1997 tour, Baryshnikov is literally stretching some muscles--his own--as he lies on the floor of a rehearsal studio at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
The cherubic face that long ago appeared on the cover of Time magazine is furrowed now and adorned with a goatee, but the piercing blue eyes, tousled blond hair and startling widow's peak still punctuate his intelligent expression.
Though he is the boss, he works alongside the White Oak dancers and must keep his aging instrument in tune. He spends two hours a day with his physical therapist, and one feature of the bare studio is a massage table. On the upcoming tour (which arrives at the Wiltern Theatre today), he will dance in all three offerings.
Still, the fact that he stays on his feet, dancing, isn't something Baryshnikov dwells on. His pleasure in the White Oak enterprise lies as much in summoning the work of others. He drafts the best dancers; he is patron to startling young choreographers, and he is a dance missionary, bringing unusual work, new and old, to audiences who pack performances primarily because of his very famous name.
At a White Oak rehearsal, there's no trace of Baryshnikov the celebrity or even the patron/producer. With all nine members of the company in place, what is on the agenda one recent morning is "Remote," commissioned from Meg Stuart, an American choreographer best known in Europe. ("I was looking for people," Baryshnikov says. "I asked her to send me some tapes. I sort of fell in love with the work.")
For 45 minutes, Stuart, a small woman in bright blue pants, moves the troupe through the still-evolving piece. It's all asymmetrical postures, impulses bouncing from one dancer to the other, with a distinct nod toward chaos. The score, by Eleanor Hovda, will be performed live (as is all White Oak's music, by a string ensemble that tours with the company); its set, with photographic projections of industrial landscapes, is by Canadian artist Bruce Mau.
As the work unfolds, Baryshnikov is just part of the pack. Fully attentive, he never says a word. Despite the stop and go of rehearsal, he always keeps moving, so that his middle-aged muscles won't seize up.
"Remote" is one of a handful of works White Oak is preparing. On the L.A. program there's also Merce Cunningham's "Septet," with Baryshnikov dancing the part that Cunningham choreographed for himself in 1953. And there is another brand-new piece: the posthumous premiere of Erick Hawkins' "Journey of a Poet." Hawkins, one of modern dance's most influential pioneers and the head of his own company for more than half a century, died in 1994, but not before creating the piece expressly for Baryshnikov.
How "Journey" made its own journey to the stage three years after Hawkins' death nicely illustrates how White Oak works. Hawkins, Baryshnikov says, "used to come and see me dance; he asked me to do something with his company. He choreographed 'Journey of a Poet' as a surprise present to me, and then he died. A couple of months later, Lucia [Dlugoszweski, Hawkins' wife and longtime collaborator] called; she's composing music.
But I realized I couldn't do it, it [was] 25 minutes, for a superman, somebody young and strong--and it was really a shame to cut it. So I had an idea to do it as a group piece, bringing in a support team. A few of Erick's dancers worked with us, bringing patterns from other work, trying to figure out what he would have done with a group without changing this piece." Why work so hard at getting it on stage? " 'Journey,' " Baryshnikov says, "is not like anything else. It's beautiful and simple; childlike, almost, but there's a Zen aspect, like back to the bicycle."
When Baryshnikov isn't touring--White Oak is on the road, mostly outside of the United States, about six months every year--he shares a house on the Hudson River, an hour north of New York City, with former ABT dancer Lisa Rinehart and their three children. (His oldest daughter, Alexandra, lives in Kentucky with her mother, actress Jessica Lange, and Sam Shepard.) He always takes ballet class--in Los Angeles, he says he'll probably drop in at the Stanley Holden studio--and he prowls Manhattan's downtown theaters, checking out emerging artists, looking for what White Oak will do next.
What he doesn't do is spend much time worrying, as most dance company heads do, about money. White Oak pays its way from what it earns. It charges high ticket prices, but it also operates on a shoestring. The dancers earn competitive salaries, but only when the company works. Except for the insistence on live music, the productions are stripped down--"Remote," with its set, is "the first time we've done such an ambitious project," according to Baryshnikov.
The way he looks at it, enforced simplicity is not so much a burden as a tool, the price of the prize--creative freedom. He makes the point best, perhaps, when he talks about the inspiring Hawkins: "I really admired the way he lived and the way he created," Baryshnikov says. "I was a few times in his apartment, he lived like a monk, with some books, a few costumes, a lifetime relationship with Lucy. It was a tough time. [His company] had no money, the dancers had daytime jobs, they'd come at night to rehearse for a few hours in a cold studio. "He was an extraordinary man. . . . He had a vision, and nothing shook him."