Mikhail Baryshnikov in the Role of Vestris


This photograph from the series "Diverse Baryshnikov" was taken by photographer Leonid Zhdanov (1927–2010) in 1969 at the First International Ballet Competition in Moscow. The miniature ballet Vestris by choreographer Leonid Yakobson (1904−75) became one of the most exciting surprises at the competition. Baryshnikov (born 1948) was able to render the life story of the most famous dancer of the 18th century. A braggart and schemer, Auguste Vestris called himself the King of the Dance and used to say: "Today, Europe knows three great men—Frederick the Great, Napoleon, and me!" Baryshnikov, who demonstrated excellent classical training, stage presence, virtuosity, and artistry, became everyone's favorite star of the Soviet ballet at age 21. He was born in Riga, Latvia, where he trained with Alexander Godunov. Later he moved to Leningrad (present-day Saint Petersburg) and graduated from the Leningrad Choreographic School in the class of the outstanding teacher Alexander Pushkin. In 1967–74 he was a soloist of the Kirov State Opera and Ballet Theater (now the Mariinsky Theater). Among his best roles were Basil in Don Quixote, Albert in Giselle, Hamlet, and Adam in Creation of the World. In 1974 while touring in Canada, he defected to the West and moved to the United States. His personality and work had a great influence on the development and popularization of American ballet. In 1974–78 he was a soloist with the American Ballet Theater and from 1980–89 he was its artistic director. In 1977–79 he was a leading dancer in George Balanchine’s company, the New York City Ballet. He is recognized as a model dancer in both classical and neoclassical ballet. Baryshnikov also had an interest in modern and postmodern dance and gave brilliant performances on Broadway and starred in Hollywood films. Zhdanov, a Bolshoi dancer and then a professor of choreography for 50 years, was also a professional ballet photographer for most of his career. His pictures are spontaneous and capture on film the movements, moods, and emotions of the unposed dancers. The Reborn Art Foundation in Moscow holds this image and the rest of the Zhdanov archive.

Last updated: February 3, 2015