It doesn’t matter how high you lift your leg. The technique is about transparency, simplicity and making an earnest attempt
Says Mikhail Baryshnikov, the famous dancer, actor, producer and photographer — a talent for whom the USSR was not big enough.
Mikhail was born in 1948 to Russian parents, in Riga, the capital of now independent Latvia. His dance is prominent from his early years, so it’s no surprise that he pursues the career of a classical ballet dancer. He graduates from the Leningrad Choreography School and gets accepted to the Kirov Ballet also in Leningrad where he performs the signature roles for a number of years. Mikhail has it tough in the USSR: being not very tall by Soviet standards – 168cm only, he was more likely to be granted only second-class ballet roles. More so, he disliked the rigidity of the Soviet ballet rules which had been around for over a hundred years: he longed for innovation and his own breathing space, which the Soviet dance organizations were unlikely to grant.
This is how he got to pondering a relocation to a more liberal, possibly Western country – which would have never happened, as the USSR did not allow immigration, let alone immigration to the capitalistic countries. It was somewhat predictable that in 1974, while touring Canada with the dance troupe of Bolshoi Theatre, he defected: he says he was exploring his dance boundaries. Indeed, in the first two years after the defection, he danced with no less than 13 choreographers, “looking for himself”.
“Mr B”, as he was known in the West, barely spoke a word of English and very little French, had a name virtually impossible to pronounce, childish height but a huge ego to live with. However, none of it mattered as his talent, his mastery of gesture and stagecraft were incredibly compelling. “It doesn’t matter how high you lift your leg. The technique is about transparency, simplicity and making an earnest attempt.” The idea of a “random dance” appealed to him, where the thrown dice determines sequence of the dance moves.
He left classical ballet in 1990, turning his genius towards the other forms of artful expressions: modern dance, acting and photography. Among the noticeable (and certainly less known facts) is his role as Yuri Kopeikine, a famous Russian womaniser ballet dancer in the 1977 film The Turning Point, for which he received an Oscar nomination. He has had a few photographic exhibitions around the world, and just like in dance, his clear images of what’s on the photo are portrayed with elegance and style.
For him New York is home these days. Now he is a second most famous Mikhail of the Soviet Union (right after Mikhail Gorbachev).