Mikhail Baryshnikov was born in Riga, Lativa on January 27, 1948. During the 1960’s Mikhail was a respected ballet dancer in Russia, however Baryshnikov defected to the U.S. in 1974 in hopes of having more creative control over his dancing. Americans immediately fell in love with his precision and grace. He worked with the American Ballet Theatre until 1978 when he joined the New York City Ballet.
Baryshnikov grew to be one of the world’s leading dancers. However his childhood was difficult. His father was a Soviet Colonel and the two did not get along. His mother committed suicide in his early teens, and it was during this time, at the age of 16 that he began training with Alexander Pushkin at the Vaganova Choreographic Institute. In 1967 he made his stage debut with the Kirov Ballet. In 1966 he won a gold medal, his first major award at the Vargna, Bulgaria Dance Competition. At the First International Ballet Competition in Moscow, in 1969, Mikhail took his second gold medal for dance. By the late 1960’s he was one of the Soviet’s leading ballet dancers.
In 1974, Baryshnikov had grown tired of the communist atmosphere in Russia. Following a performance of the Bolshoi Ballet in Toronto he defected to the U.S. to find greater artistic freedom for dance. He danced with ABT until 1978, danced with New York City Ballet with Balanchine and Robbins, and in 1980 returned to ABT as artistic director and principal dancer.
Baryshnikov was known as a major character because of his appearances in several movies and other media sites, which allowed access to this art form that was suffering from lack of interest. He was known throughout the dance world for his magnificent turns (he held the record for a short time for eleven pirouettes).