How Well Do You Know Baryshnikov, Ballet's Renaissance Man? Test Your Knowledge!

Photo by Martha Swope, courtesy of Billy Rose Theatre Division, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Mikhail Nikolaevitch Baryshnikov is one of the greatest male ballet dancers of all time, ranked with Vaslav Nijinsky and Rudolf Nureyev. Hailed for his performances with American Ballet Theatre in the 1970s and '80s, Baryshnikov has had a wide-ranging career, spanning the realms of choreography, performance, direction, film, television and theater.


After training at the Vaganova School in Leningrad and performing with the Kirov Ballet, he famously defected to the West in 1974. He soon joined ABT, wowing ballet enthusiasts with his performances alongside partners Natalia Makarova and Gelsey Kirkland. His magnetic presence, brilliant dramatic interpretations and near-perfect technique quickly made him a star. He had the deep demi-plié, elegant lines and ballon required for an expert classicist, yet was chameleon-like in his ability to embody different choreographic styles, regal or provocative.

In 1978 he left ABT to join New York City Ballet, though he returned nearly two years later to become ABT's artistic director. During his decade-long tenure, he revived beloved classics and commissioned new work from choreographers such as Merce Cunningham and José Limón.

He also pursued an acting career, on both stage and screen, starring in The Turning Point (1977) with Shirley MacLaine and White Nights (1985) with Gregory Hines.

Today, the 69-year-old Baryshnikov serves as artistic director of the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City, which he founded in 2005 as a gathering and creative space for dancers and other artists.Though best known for his virtuosic dancing,

Baryshnikov also choreographed, acted, curated and directed throughout his career:

  • Push Comes to Shove (1976) Choreographed by Twyla Tharp to showcase Baryshnikov shortly after his arrival at ABT, this jazzy showstopper set to ragtime and Haydn highlighted his versatility against Tharp's personal quirky vocabulary. Off-balance turns, lightning-quick directional changes, complex musical phrasing and fleeting moments of pedestrian movement provided him with the challenge he was craving prior to his defection.

  • The Nutcracker (1976) Baryshnikov conceived, choreographed and directed this production of The Nutcracker for ABT. His darker, more psychologically driven version portrayed Clara as a young girl on the cusp of womanhood and beefed up the roles of the Nutcracker Prince (which he danced) and Drosselmeyer. It was adapted for television in 1977, with Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland in the lead roles.

  • White Nights (1985) For this feature film, Baryshnikov, as a Russian dancer/expat, acted and danced alongside tap star Gregory Hines. In one of the most famous scenes of the film—and Baryshnikov's career—Hines' character bets Baryshnikov 11 rubles that he can't perform an 11-rotation pirouette, to which Baryshnikov responds by executing all 11 turns flawlessly.
Did You Know?
  • Baryshnikov received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance as a Russian dancer and heartthrob in The Turning Point (1977).
  • Though arguably one of the most famous dancers ever, Baryshnikov may be better known by the masses for his role as Russian artist Aleksandr Petrovsky in the last season of the hit HBO series "Sex and the City."
Music
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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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