Mikhail Baryshnikov Biography

Mikhail Nikolayevich Baryshnikov, also known as ‘Misha’, is a Russian-American ballet dancer who is widely regarded as one of the greatest ballet dancers of all time. With a passion for both traditional and contemporary dance, he has made a significant impact on the world of ballet. Starting his training at a young age, he quickly gained recognition in the Soviet Union and later expanded his career in Canada and the United States. Throughout his journey, he has collaborated with esteemed choreographers and worked with renowned dance companies. Additionally, he co-founded a touring company and has made notable appearances in television and film.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Mikhail Nikolayevich Baryshnikov
  • Age: 75 Years, 75 Year Old Males
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Jessica Lange, Lisa Rinehart
    • Father: Nicholai Baryshnikov
    • Mother: Alexandra Kisselova
    • Children: Alexandra Lange Baryshnikova, Anna Katerina Baryshnikov, Peter Andrew Baryshnikov, Sofia-Luisa Baryshnikova
  • Born Country: Latvia
  • Ballet Dancers
  • Choreographers
  • Height: 5’7″ (170 cm), 5’7″ Males
  • City: Riga, Latvia
  • More Facts
  • Awards:
    • 2000 – Kennedy Center Honors
    • 2000 – National Medal of Arts
    • 1980 – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy-Variety Or Music Program – Baryshnikov on Broadway
    • 1978 – David di Donatello Special Award – The Turning Point
    • 1989 – Outer Critics Circle Special Award – Metamorphosis
    • 1979 – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Events – Great Performances: Dance in America
    • 1989 – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Classical Music-Dance Program – Great Performances: Dance in America

Childhood & Early Life

Mikhail Nikolayevich Baryshnikov was born on 28 January 1948, in Riga, Latvia, to Russian couple Nikolay Baryshnikov, an engineer, and Alexandra, a dressmaker. At that time, Latvia was part of the Soviet Union. He had a difficult childhood as he did not get along well with his father and his mother committed suicide during his early teenage years. However, later he drew inspiration from his father’s discipline, manners and military habits. He began taking lessons in ballet dancing at the age of 11. In 1964, he joined a school of classical ballet named the Vaganova School in Leningrad. He got the opportunity to learn from the well-known choreographer Alexander Pushkin. In 1966, he won the gold medal in the junior division at the Varna International Ballet Competition which is one of the most prestigious ballet competitions in the world.


In 1967, Mikhail Baryshnikov joined the Kirov Ballet as a soloist. His performance and technique were well appreciated and thus he did not have to undergo the routine apprenticeship. He made his first stage performance with ‘Giselle’. Taking note of his versatility and perfection in technique, several choreographers choreographed ballet performances for him. In this manner, he has worked with artists Igor Tchernichov, Oleg Vinogradov, Leonid Jakobson, and Konstantin Sergeyev. Later, as he became the premier danseur noble of Kirov Ballet, he played the leading roles in ‘Gorianka’ (1968) and ‘Vestris’ (1969). The roles that he depicted in these performances were exclusively choreographed for him and went on to be among his signature pieces. He was very well-known among Soviet audiences, however, he was growing uncomfortable with several restrictions that were imposed on him like the ban on his performance of contemporary foreign ballet. In 1974, in the midst of a dancing tour in Canada with Kirov Ballet, he requested refuge in Toronto, stating that he would not go back to the USSR. He subsequently joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Within two years of moving to Canada, he got the opportunity to work with several creative choreographers and explored the synchronization of traditional and contemporary technique. During this period he worked as a freelance artist with popular choreographers like Alvin Ailey, Glen Tetley, Twyla Tharp, and Jerome Robbins. Between 1974 and 1978, he was associated with the American Ballet Theatre as a principal dancer partnering with ballerina Gelsey Kirkland. During this period he improvised and choreographed Russian classics like ‘The Nutcracker’ (1976) and ‘Don Quixote’ (1978). He made his debut performance on television in 1976 in ‘In Performance Live’ with Wolf Trap. The following year TV network CBS purchased his popular ballet theatre performance of ‘The Nutcracker’ for television. Between 1978 and 1979, he worked with the New York City ballet under choreographer George Balanchine. Here, several ballet roles were designed for him like the roles in Jerome Robbins’s ‘Opus 19: The Dreamer (1979)’, ‘Other Dances’ and Frederick Ashton’s ‘Rhapsody’ (1980). He also made regular guest performances with the Royal Ballet.

Artistic Director and Later Career

In 1980, he returned to American Ballet Theatre and served as Artistic Director until 1989. From 1990 to 2002, he was associated with the White Oak Dance Project, a touring dance company as the Artistic Director, a dance company co-founded by himself and dancer and choreographer Mark Morris. Between the 1970s and the 1980s, he made several appearances on television with ballet performances on shows like ‘Live from Lincoln Centre’ and ‘Great Performances’. His first movie role was in ‘Turning Point’ in 1977. The performance was appreciated and he received an Oscar nomination for the same. Other movies that he was part of include ‘White Nights’ (1985), ‘That’s Dancing!’ (1985), ‘Dancers’ (1987), and ‘Company Business’ (1991). He also played a part in the last season of the television series ‘Sex and the City’ (2003-2004). In 2005, he founded an art complex named Baryshnikov Arts Center. It provides production facilities and space for performing arts like music, theatre, dance, film design, etc. In 2006, he appeared on an episode of Sundance Channel’s series ‘Iconoclasts’. The following year the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer featured an episode of Mikhail Baryshnikov and his arts center.

Awards & Achievements

In 1999, he was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts by the United States Congress in 2000. In 2003, he was awarded the Prix Benois de la Danse by the International Dance Association in Moscow for lifetime achievement. In 2012, he received the Vilcek Prize in Dance by the Vilcek Foundation. He is the recipient of honorary degrees from prestigious universities like the New York University (2006), Shenandoah University (2007), and Montclair State University (2008).

Personal Life & Legacy

Mikhail Baryshnikov was born a Russian citizen and became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1986. He was in a relationship with American actress Jessica Lange. The couple had a daughter in 1981, named Aleksandra Baryshnikova. He is known to have had romantic relationships with former ballerinas Natalia Makarova and Gelsey Kirkland. He was in a long-term relationship with former ballerina, writer, and video journalist Lisa Rinehart. They married in 2006. The couple has three children: Peter (born in 1989), Anna (born in 1992), and Sofia (born in 1994).

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