Special Feature: Commencement 2013

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Baryshnikov Takes Center Stage at Commencement

Well-known performing artist will address Class of 2013

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January 29, 2013 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel
Mikhail Baryshnikov
Mikhail Baryshnikov. Photo by Peter Hurley

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Mikhail Baryshnikov, founder and artistic director of the Baryshnikov Arts Center, critically acclaimed film, television and theater actor and one of the world’s greatest ballet dancers, will receive an honorary degree and deliver the main address at Northwestern University’s 155th commencement.

Northwestern’s 2013 commencement ceremony will be held at 9:30 a.m. Friday, June 21, at the University’s Ryan Field.

Born in Riga, Latvia, to Russian parents, Baryshnikov trained in Riga until moving in 1964 to Leningrad to study at the Vaganova School. In 1969, he was accepted as a soloist into the Kirov Ballet and quickly was promoted to the rank of principal dancer.

In 1974, while touring in Canada, he decided to stay in the West and made his debut with American Ballet Theatre at the New York State Theater dancing the role of Albrecht in “Giselle” with Natalia Makarova.

A Dance Magazine critic best summed up the anticipation that preceded that debut: “Thunder broke in the theater at Baryshnikov's entrance.” Even before the debut, Clive Barnes, then New York Times dance critic, saw Baryshnikov in dance class and described him as “the most perfect dancer I have ever seen.” Baryshnikov went on to perform around the world with almost every major classical and contemporary dance company as well as working with the leading choreographers of the time.

In 1979, he joined New York City Ballet and worked with George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.

Baryshnikov became artistic director of American Ballet Theatre in 1980, and during his 10-year tenure there, he worked to promote and develop new American talent, most notably by commissioning works for the company by modern choreographers.

In 1990, he and choreographer Mark Morris founded the White Oak Dance Project and toured extensively around the world exposing new audiences to modern dance.

Baryshnikov has performed in numerous projects for film, television and stage. In 1977, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the film “The Turning Point.” He was awarded an Emmy for “Baryshnikov on Broadway” with Liza Minnelli in 1980. Many also know him from his appearances in the last season of HBO’s “Sex and the City,” as the Russian artist Alex Petrovsky, the love interest of Carrie, played by Sarah Jessica Parker.

In 2005 he founded the Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC), a New York creative hub comprised of four large studios; the Howard Gilman Performance Space, a 136-seat black box performance space; and the 238-seat Jerome Robbins Theater. BAC serves approximately 500 artists and more than 22,000 audience members annually through presentations and artist residencies.

Baryshnikov has received numerous honors including a 2000 honor from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the National Medal of the Arts (2000), the Jerome Robbins Award (2005) and the University Chubb Fellowship (2003-04). In 2010, he was named an Officer of the French Legion of Honor.