June 29, 2012 - Anniversary of Mikhail Baryshnikov's Defection

– 1974

He is one of the greatest ballet dancers of all times.

He is also an accomplished choreographer and actor, familiar to many for his roles in movies like The Turning Point (1977) and White Nights (1985), and for his appearances in the popular TV show Sex and the City (last season).

And on this date in 1974, he became a traitor to his country!

Well, that is how some people may have described what happened. Most of us would say that he escaped a repressive nation and became free.

You see, Baryshnikov was born in Russia, which was part of the Soviet Union (or the USSR). This was a nation that limited and controlled many things about its citizens' lives, including what sort of work they did and their movements in and out of the USSR. Baryshnikov's talent as a dancer was recognized, and he was able to achieve a lot there in his country—but who knows if he would have been allowed to choreograph, act, or travel as he wished? Still, the USSR loved to promote its dancers (and athletes and musicians) as the best in the world, and part of doing that involved letting those amazing dancers (and athletes and musicians) travel and perform elsewhere.

On one of those tours, while in Canada with the Bolshoi Ballet, Mikhail Baryshnikov requested political asylum and announced to the dance world that he would not go back to the USSR. This defection was a blow to the USSR—it was a permanent removal of Baryshnikov's allegiance to his former country.

Baryshnikov joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Canada, but he soon went to the United States and joined the American Ballet Theater. He also worked with the New York City Ballet and England's Royal Ballet. Eventually Baryshnikov became a U.S. citizen.

Soviet Russia and East Germany and other Communist nations lost a steady trickle of their most elite artists and athletes to the U.S. or other Western nations. Baryshnikov was part of that trickle-to-freedom.

Also on this date:

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