Mikhail Baryshnikov Defects

Screenshot (1193)The ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov defected from the Soviet Union in Toronto on June 29, 1974, while on tour with the Kirov Ballet. 

“In Russia I was never a big pain in the butt or political dissident. Also I was never convicted and sentenced as a criminal, like Rodchenko. I was a civil servant. The Kirov was sponsored by the government. I had all the privileges and material things I wanted. Enough money, a car, beautiful apartment. I was right there next to sons of ministers in the elite. But I couldn’t travel abroad when I wanted, I couldn’t work with people I wanted. You have to express enthusiasm and be an example to youth, though I was not in the Party or anything like that. I had arguments with the system, I cheated where I could, anything goes, pretending to agree with the system and to be loyal.

These are my observations now from a distance, from 11 years in the U.S. It was a spontaneous decision which I made the day before I actually defected. I was 26, it was now or never for me. I was at the peak of my career. Time was running out. The creative mood of ballet was depressing. I was not free to fly, in every sense. Years earlier I saw how. My dream in 1969 was to see and dance in Paris as a guest with the Baku Ballet. It was such a privilege to go. I prayed for this, and it’s all up to the KGB to sign the documents letting you out. I rehearsed for months, and the morning of the day we were to leave for Paris from Moscow the KGB gave me my passport and told me I was going back to Leningrad instead. Canceled my papers, no explanation. An informant probably said I was a defection risk. I never considered then living in the U.S…

…The defection was like a thriller—with a comic twist. It was arranged secretly through friends. I was running, the getaway car was waiting a few blocks away as we were boarding on the group’s bus. KGB was watching us. It was actually funny. Fans are waiting for me outside the stage door, and I walk out and I start to run, and they start to run after me for autograph. They were laughing, I was running for my life. It was very emotional moment, I tell you.

For years I had nightmares, waking up in cold sweat in middle of night, hearing somebody running after me. It was traumatic, but a relief. I knew it was right.”

“A Bold Leap for Mikhail,” Mikhail Baryshnikov, People, December 16, 1985, Vol. 24, No. 25.