13 facts about commencement speaker Mikhail Baryshnikov

Mikhail Baryshnikov, founder and artistic director of the Baryshnikov Arts Center, will impart his wisdom to the class of 2013 on Friday at Ryan Field. Baryshnikov's daughter currently attends NU.

Source: University Relations

Mikhail Baryshnikov, founder and artistic director of the Baryshnikov Arts Center, will impart his wisdom to the class of 2013 on Friday at Ryan Field. Baryshnikov's daughter currently attends NU.

Maria LaMagna

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I’ll admit it.

When I heard Mikhail Baryshnikov would be Northwestern’s 2013 commencement speaker, my mind immediately went to “Sex and the City.”

But years before he broke Carrie Bradshaw’s heart in Paris as the mysterious Russian artist Aleksandr Petrovsky, Mikhail Baryshnikov was one of the most celebrated ballet dancers of all time.

He’ll impart his wisdom on the class of 2013 on Friday. I know it’s tempting to just line up and prepare to compare his address to Stephen Colbert’s. But first, let’s learn about what makes this NU dad important on an international scale, and not just on E! reruns:

  1. Baryshnikov was born in Riga, Latvia, on Jan. 27, 1948. His father was a Soviet colonel. Baryshnikov later used his father’s mannerisms as inspiration for his dance.
  2. When Baryshnikov was in his early teens, his mother committed suicide. He began studying ballet around that time.
  3. In 1967, Baryshnikov made his stage debut in the Kirov Ballet’s production of “Giselle.”
  4. Baryshnikov won major ballet awards in his youth, including a gold medal at a Varna, Bulgaria, dance competition in 1966 and another gold medal at the First International Ballet Competition in Moscow in 1969.
  5. By the late 1960’s, Baryshnikov was one of the Soviet Union’s leading ballet dancers. He was known for both technical skill and ability to express his emotions through his performances.
  6. During his successful career, Baryshnikov began to resent the atmosphere of communist Russia. In 1974, he defected from the Soviet Union and went West in pursuit of greater creative freedom. He was once quoted as saying, “I am individualist and there it is a crime,” of his move.
  7. Baryshnikov went to the United States, where he joined the American Ballet Theatre. His performances were extremely popular with American audiences.
  8. Experiencing success not only on the ballet stage, Baryshnikov was nominated for an Academy Award in 1977. It was for a dance drama called “The Turning Point.” It starred Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine.
  9. Baryshnikov left the American Ballet Theatre for the New York City Ballet in 1978.
  10. In 1990, Baryshnikov created the White Oak Dance Project with professional partner Mark Morris. It was a move toward contemporary dance.
  11. In 2000, Baryshnikov was recognized for a lifetime of extraordinary achievement at the Kennedy Center Honor Awards.
  12. His nickname is “Misha,” which is also the name of the perfume line he created in the late 1980’s.
  13. Baryshnikov’s daughter Anna currently attends NU.

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