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Sneaking a Peek at Baryshnikov


Mikhail Baryshnikov, age 19Mikhail Baryshnikov, age 19A few weeks ago, NYPL's Jerome Robbins Dance Division made headlines when it received a major gift of materials from Mikhail Baryshnikov,* the celebrated dancer, actor, and founder of the Baryshnikov Arts Center.

We’ve only scratched the surface in terms of the processing needed to make the archive accessible to the public, but in the meantime, we’ve put together a sneak preview showcasing what we’ve found so far!

Mikhail Baryshnikov: An Archival Preview is on view in the Donald and Mary Oenslager Gallery at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts until December 20, 2011. Take a rare glimpse into the collection before it is catalogued, a process expected to take three years. More information about the exhibition >> 

Many people these days may be more aware of Baryshnikov from his television work on Sex and the City, but those of us over a certain age remember the excitement when this Kirov (Mariinsky) Ballet star burst onto the New York stage, dancing with Natalia Makarova* in Giselle with the American Ballet Theatre on July 27, 1974. (You can see silent excerpts of that very first performance in New York or a later full performance by the pair right here in the Library.)

American Ballet Theatre program, July 27, 1974American Ballet Theatre program, July 27, 1974It wasn’t just his amazing technical gifts, but the charisma he exuded that wowed audiences and critics alike. He hobnobbed with Hollywood royalty, and was so well known that titles of magazine articles about him would just refer to him by his nickname, “Misha.” And he helped make dance exciting to a broader audience, especially through his crossover work in films and television. In 1977, it seemed every teenage girl (and not a few women) wanted to be Leslie Browne in The Turning Point, just to be in the same room with Baryshnikov. How many people today can even name a male ballet dancer? 

Headlines for Baryshnikov's New York debut, 1974, from The New York Times (top) and The New York Post (bottom)Headlines for Baryshnikov's New York debut, 1974, from The New York Times (top) and The New York Post (bottom)

As we begin to go through his collection, however, what strikes me as truly extraordinary is Baryshnikov’s constant quest for new challenges. He left the Soviet Union to seek more artistic freedom; he left guaranteed stardom at the American Ballet Theatre to work with George Balanchine at New York City Ballet. And then — not content with merely being a dancer — less than 10 years after he arrived in New York, he took on the directorship of the American Ballet Theatre, and followed that by founding the White Oak Dance Project with Mark Morris in 1990 to focus on modern dance. 

Beyond his acting work, Baryshnikov has written a children’s book and published and exhibited his photography around the world. Most recently, he has expressed his support for expanding creative boundaries by establishing the Baryshnikov Arts Center, which “serves as a creative laboratory, meeting place, and performance space for a vibrant community of artists from around the world.” Just this past week, Baryshnikov was presented with a 2011 Mayor’s Award for Arts & Culture for his “outstanding contributions to New York City’s cultural life.”

You’ll see evidence of the incredible breadth of artistic endeavors that Baryshnikov has undertaken — as well as the indomitable courage behind them — in our small exhibition. So come and visit the Library soon and see what we’ve discovered!

*Links with asterisks require a New York Library card and PIN, or they may be accessed on site at the Library.


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great post

Very informative, I didn't know about most of what you shared here about Baryshnikov. I have to admit it took the 80's movie White Nights to introduce me to him.
Ditto. I concur with patron Jeremy's comments above; this post was very informative, as well as well written. Except I did know a little about Baryshnikov's background before, but not as much I learned here. Thank you. Can't wait to see it!


What a generous gift to all New Yorkers and visitors of the NYPL. Thank you for the post on the preview.

Barshnikov Archives

The entire dance world will be weak with gratitude when we see the treasures bestowed upon us by this prince of dance.

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