(b Riga, 27 Jan. 1948)
Latvian-born Soviet-US dancer, choreographer and ballet director. One of the leading, international stars of 20th-century dance. He studied at the Leningrad Ballet School (the Vaganova) with Pushkin and joined the Kirov in 1967, where he rapidly rose to prominence. Jacobson choreographed the solo Vestris (1969) especially to showcase his technical brilliance, and Baryshnikov went on to create lead roles in Sergeyev's Hamlet (title role, 1970) and Kasatkina and Vasiliov's Creation of the World (Adam, 1971). In 1974, while on tour with a troupe of Soviet dancers, he defected in Toronto, following the example of his Kirov predecessors Nureyev and Makarova. He danced with many companies in the West, including the Royal Ballet and Paris Opera Ballet, but was most closely associated with American Ballet Theatre (1974–8, 1980–9), where he formed a partnership with Gelsey Kirkland. In addition to performing the classical repertoire, he actively sought the challenges of modern choreography, working with the Paul Taylor, Alvin Ailey, and Martha Graham companies, among others and enjoying enormous success with Twyla Tharp's crossover ballet Push Comes to Shove (1976), which became his signature piece. He joined New York City Ballet in 1978 for a season in order to work with Balanchine, although the choreographer was not able to create anything new for him. While at NYCB Baryshnikov did however create roles in two Robbins ballets, The Seasons and Opus 19. In 1980 he returned to ABT as principal dancer and artistic director, where he remained until 1989. His directorship met with mixed success; his stagings included Giselle (1980), Cinderella (1983), and Swan Lake (1988), but the last two were quickly withdrawn from the repertoire. As a pure classical dancer, he was possessed of a superlative technique and musicality as well as an exceptional ability to inhabit the characters he portrayed on stage.
Following his retirement from classical ballet, Baryshnkikov joined with Mark Morris to found the White Oak Dance Project in 1990, using his celebrity and his still-compelling stage presence to bring modern dance to audiences around the world. For White Oak he commissioned new works from Taylor, Tharp, Lubovitch, and Robbins, among others, while reviving works by Holm, Graham, Limón, and Cunningham; he also oversaw the revivals of key works from Judson Dance Theatre. In 2002 White Oak was disbanded, but in 2005 Baryshnikov founded the Baryshnikov Arts Centre in New York, a creative base and performance space for artists from different disciplines. In 2006 under the auspices of the BAC he performed with Hell's Kitchen Dance, in a programme of works by BAC associates Aszure Barton and Benjamin Millepied. In 2007 he danced in Stockholm with Ana Laguna in M. Ek's Place.
The list of his created roles includes Neumeier's Hamlet: Connotations (1976), Ailey's Pas de Duke (1976), Petit's Dame de pique (1978), Robbins's Other Dances (1976), and Opus 19 (1979), Ashton's Rhapsody (1980), MacMillan's The Wild Boy (1981), Tharp's Push Comes to Shove (1976), The Little Ballet (also called Once Upon a Time, 1983), and Sinatra Suite (1984), Armitage's The Mollino Room (1986), and Morris's Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes (1988) and Wonderland (1989).