At an age when the greatest ballet dancers have long stepped down from the stage, Mikhail Baryshnikov simply can’t stop dancing. “I love performing and I will keep doing it as long as I have something valuable to show on stage”, the famous ballet dancer shared in an interview recently. “No matter if it is in the form of dance or words.”
Without the white ballet tights because of multiple knee surgeries but still in a good shape, the 70-year-old ballet dancer continues his art of pirouettes on stage. “This makes my heart beat and my blood rush in my veins”, Baryshnikov admits. “I started doing yoga and going to the gym in order to highlight my muscles, mostly on the upper part of my body.”
Since 2005 the artist has been based mainly in his Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York, which provides opportunities for many young artists to express themselves and master their crafts. The fees there are exceptionally low for Manhattan. “The economic conditions and the high rent rates in the city make young people’s lives difficult. I want to help them become successful in what they are doing”, points out the renowned choreographer who is visiting Sofia Opera and Ballet to present his production Brodsky/Baryshnikov on 19th and 20th January 2019.
In the art world, Baryshnikov has long been considered one of the best male ballet dancers worldwide, but he became better-known to the general public after taking part in the iconic series Sex and the City, where Misha (as his friends affectionately call him) is one of main character Carrie Bradshaw’s dearest boyfriends. His role of artist AleksandrPetrovsky fits him like a glove and Baryshnikov creates the romantic character of an artist who plays the piano, reads poetry, dances in the street and gives designer dresses as presents. “All my friends were asking me why I had done it. For me, this was a great challenge.”
The outstanding dancer was born in 1948 in Latvia’s capital Riga, at the time when the city is still part of the USSR and New York is but a dream. He starts dancing while still a child and studies at the Kirov Ballet School in today’s St. Petersburg. With his firm discipline, Baryshnikov never stops dancing and becomes the heart and soul of the company. Even back then a critic calls him “the most perfect dancer of all times”.
While touring around Canada in 1974, Baryshnikov leaves the company and sets off to New York where he ends up in the company of New York City Ballet and legendary George Balanchine. “Well, I was lucky to be in the right places at the right times with the right people”, he admits today. “That’s the story of my life.” Armed with a lot of curiosity and creativity, Baryshnikov has developed more than 100 pieces of choreography combining the full control over the body of the Russian school with the technique of contemporary American dance masters.
Baryshnikov’s horizons go beyond the ballet stage. He collects artworks (predominantly by Russian masters) and exhibits them in galleries. Apart from that, he is the co-owner of a Russian restaurant in New York (that same one where he took Carrie out on a date), he does photography and teaches choreography.
Despite living and working in the USA for many years now, he refuses to part with his Russian accent. “I love Russian people and culture.I don’t like their government, that’s obvious, and I don’t think the country is going in the right direction in many ways, but it’s not my concern.”
In a favourite interview for Harvard Business Review, Baryshnikov shares that he doesn’t live for people’s recognition and for him, it is important to do his best. And here is what else…
Your career has been all about reinvention. Why?
It’s instinctive. There’s an internal clock that dictates what interests me at any given time. Change in any person’s life is propelled by an almost primal need to explore, to test boundaries. I just follow that urge. In some cases, I look at what others are doing and stubbornly go in the opposite direction. Sometimes it works, sometimes I fail. There are no guarantees.
You’ve hinted at retirement. But at 63 you’re still dancing. Have you gotten better with age?
I don’t know how much longer I’ll dance, but I’ve certainly learned how to pace myself. I’m not sure it’s up to me to decide what, if anything, has improved. I can only say that age forces you to pare things down to what’s essential.
I’ve read that you hate critics.
Well, that’s an exaggeration. It’s just that there’s no easy way to be completely objective as a critic. And most artists don’t want to be subjected to someone else’s opinion of their work anyway.
Do you have an inner critic?
You absolutely have to have one—maybe a whole stable of them.
What have been your most satisfying professional experiences?
Meeting all the bizarre, weird, beautiful people in the arts. They are divinely obsessed, and that has made my life so much more interesting than I could have imagined.
Who has been most inspirational?
I like to kiss, but I don’t tell.
Why are you so good at what you do?
Please don’t make me think about this. This is the worst thing one can do: sit around and think about how good you’ve gotten at something. Besides, I’m not always so great—ask my wife.
Text: Veliana Simeonova
Photos: Janis Deinats, DPA