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1974: Mikhail Baryshnikov defects from the Soviet Union

The Story

On June 29, 1974, Mikhail Baryshnikov runs three blocks to a waiting car in Toronto and effectively defects from the Soviet Union. It happens shortly after the Kirov Ballet's final performance at the O'Keefe Centre. Baryshnikov was in the city as part of the company's Canadian tour. The 26-year-old's high-stakes defection has led to a flurry of media interest. Baryshnikov, considered one of the world's greatest dancers, attempts to accommodate the media as seen in this TV footage. In his first interview following his defection, Baryshnikov says his decision was an artistic, not a political, choice. He told John Fraser, the Globe and Mail's dance critic, that he wanted the freedom to dance with some of the best ballet companies in the West.

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: June 30, 1974
Guests: David Haber, Dina Makarova
Reporter: Tim Knight
Duration: 2:18

Did You know?

• Mikhail Baryshnikov, affectionately known as Misha, was born on Jan. 28, 1948, in Riga, Latvia, to working class parents. He began studying ballet at age nine. In 1966, he joined Leningrad's Kirov Ballet, graduating from student to principal dancer in 1969.

• The Soviet government responded calmly to Baryshnikov's defection. The ballet company was allowed to continue its tour. To Baryshnikov's relief, his family in back in the Soviet Union did not suffer repercussions.

• Soon after his defection, Baryshnikov applied for and was granted political asylum in the United States. Baryshnikov became an American citizen on July 3, 1986.

• Baryshnikov became the principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre from 1974 to 1979 and with the New York City Ballet from 1979 to 1980.

• In 1979, he established Baryshnikov Dance Foundation, a non-profit organization to foster the arts, in particular experimental works, as well as encourage collaboration. In 1990, he co-founded the White Oak Project, a modern dance company.

• Baryshnikov has also found success as an actor. He received an Oscar nomination for his first film role in The Turning Point in 1977. He played a womanizing ballet dancer named Yuri. He starred in the 1985 film White Nights and the 1987 film Dancers. He played Carrie Bradshaw's boyfriend, Aleksandr Petrovsky, in the last season (2003-2004) of popular TV series Sex and the City.

• Since 2004, he has been busy with the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York. BAC is an international centre aimed at nurturing artistic experimentation.

Also on June 29:
1926: Arthur Meighen is appointed Prime Minister following the King-Byng controversy (where Governor General Lord Byng refused Prime Minister Mackenzie King's request to dissolve Parliament and call an election.) Meighen led the country until Sept. 25.
1930: Pope Pius XI canonizes Jean de Brébeuf and seven other Jesuit martyrs of the 1600s; the first North American saints.
1993: The Hospital Auxiliary of the Kitchener-Waterloo Hospital in Ontario fills the world's largest bowl of strawberries. The bowl contains 2,370 kilograms of strawberries.





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