Mikhail Baryshnikov is arguably the world’s most famous male ballet dancer. Of course we mean outside the world of ballet that is. Baryshnikov has danced his way into more people’s homes than any other male ballet dancer we can think of. Nominated for an Oscar in 1977 for The Turning Point he went on to costar with Gregory Hines and Isabella Rossellini White Nights. His latest claim to fame was portraying Aleksandr Petrovksy, one of Carrie Bradshaw’s many love interests in Sex and the City. In the later the played a painter and did not perform a single ballet, that we can remember. Yet, everyone knows who he is, world famous ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Baryshnikov made it to household name status in the 80’s and this is a rare feat in the world of male ballet dancers. So we got to thinking about this and realized, even though they haven’t made it to the level of popularity that Baryshnikov has there are many male ballet dancers who are famous for what they do, which would be dance superbly in ballets. Then we thought that someone out there must be interested in reading about other male ballet dancers. This brought us to our first installment of…
5 Famous Male Ballet Dancers Besides Baryshnikov
1 – Michel Fokine
Also hailing from Russia, like Baryshnikov, Michel Fokine was born in April of 1880. Fokine had a great impact on the 20th-century ballet. He began studying at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg at the age of nine. This prestigious ballet academy is a part of the renowned Mariinsky Theatre. Fokine also performed for the first time at age nine with the guidance of Marius Petipa. Excelling in dancing, music, and painting Mikhail Fokine had an insatiable interest in the ballet and was known to have a unique attitude toward the dance when he choreographed ballet pieces.
Michel performed at the Imperial Russian Ballet for the first time on his eighteenth birthday. This advanced talent in dancing was on par with his progress as a choreographer. At first Fokine’s vision of artistic unity was not recognized but by 1909 three of his ballets were a part of the Ballets Russes, a ballet company in Paris. In fact, Fokine is credited to the Ballets Russes success as a company.
Fokine remained with Ballet Russes until 1914 and then he went back to Russia but he only remained there for four years. In 1918 he left Russia finally settled on New York City in 1923. Fokine continued to create works but none of his ballets created in the United States would influence the world of dance the way his earlier work had.
Michel Fokine died before completing his final ballet, which was a comedy version of Helen of Troy. This ballet was finished by David Lichine and premiered in Mexico City in 1942.
2 – Rudolf Nureyev
Born in Russia in 1938 Rudolf Nureyev began studying ballet at the age of eleven. By fifteen he was dancing professionally in the local opera as an extra and moved on to dance with the corps de ballet and toured with the group.
At seventeen Nureyev began schooling at Leningrad Ballet School studying with Alexander Pushkin. Upon graduation Rudolf Nureyev was offered a soloist contract with the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg. He would dance fifteen major roles with this company.
The Kirov Ballet toured Paris in 1961 with Nureyev as a part of the group. He also performed for the first time in London that same year opposite ballerina Margot Fonteyn. This performance was at Margot Fonteyn’s annual event for the Royal Academy of Dancing.
By 1964 Nureyev was ready to choreograph and attempted to create adaptations of Raymonda and Swan Lake. Before the end of his career Nureyev would go on to translate four more ballets.
He refused a director position at the Royal Ballet in 1977 because he wanted to remain a dancer. In 1983 he accepted the ballet director position at the Paris Opera because he would be able to continue dancing for half the year.
Nureyev died at the age of 54 in 1993 due to complications arising from AIDS. The Paris Garnier Opera House hosted his funeral and the tributes were endless. As a lover and collector of striking carpets and textiles, Nureyev’s grave is covered in a collection of carpets.
3 – Erik Bruhn
In Copenhagen, Denmark, Erik Bruhn was born on October 3rd, 1928. He began training in dance at the age of nine at the Royal Danish Ballet in 1937. Ten years later he joined their dance company and earned the position of soloist in 1949. Later that year Bruhn took a leave of absence to join the American Ballet Theater. He would go back to the Royal Danish Ballet in the late fifties but would leave it permanently in 1961. From there he would dance, once again, with the American Ballet Theater, the New York City Ballet, the Royal Ballet, the Australian Ballet, The Royal Swedish Ballet, and the Paris Opera Ballet.
A noble dancer Bruhn was known to be outstandingly elegant in ballets of a romantic nature. His version of Jean in Miss Julie and Don José in Carmen earned him tons of praise and he appeared on American television in Swan Lake and The Bell Telephone Hour. Bruhn also appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1957 alongside Nora Kaye to perform the Black Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake.
Erik Bruhn met our dancer listed in slot two, Rudolf Nureyev, when Nureyev in 1961. It is rumored that they were lovers and even written that Bruhn was the love or Nureyev’s life. They always remained close until Erik Bruhn passed away in 1986 at the age of fifty-seven. Again, it seems this beloved ballet dancer also died due to complications arising from AIDS. Bruhn’s remains rest in a cemetery near his childhood home in Denmark. His grave is unmarked.
4 – Vaslav Nijinsky
Born in Russia in 1890 Vaslav Nijinsky is the first dancer on our list to reach legendary status due to his gravity defying leaps and perceptive portrayals. He became a student at the Imperial School of Dancing in St. Petersburg when he was eight years old. He graduated from a brilliant school career at the age of eighteen and became danseur noble, soloist, at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. Nijinsky performed Giselle, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty while a part of that company. Two years later Nijinsky joined Ballets Russes in Paris. The male ballet dancer we put in slot number one of this list, Michel Fokine, choreographed for the Ballet Russes at the time and created Le Spectre de la rose, Petrushka, Schéhérazade, and other ballets just for Vaslav Nijinsky. In 1909 Nijinsky wowed Paris at was dubbed a genius of the ballet due to his ability to stay afloat as if dancing on air and his exceptional talent and acting abilities.
By 1912 Nijinsky was ready to choreograph and created several ballets to be performed by the Ballet Russes. His choreographed pieces were considered courageous and innovative.
Vaslav Nijinsky and Romola, countess de Pulszky-Lubocy-Cselfalva, in 1913 in Buenos Aires. Due to a nervous breakdown Nijinsky retired from performing at the age of twenty-nine in 1919. It seems he suffered from schizophrenia. From the beginning of retirement until 1950 Nijinsky lived in Switzerland, France, and England where he died in London. He is buried in the Montmartre in Paris.
5 – Benjamin Millepied
Husband to actress Natalie Portman, Benjamin Millepied was born in Bordeaux, France in 1977. He reached international status when working on the movie Black Swan, which he choreographed and starred alongside his now wife.
His mother, Catherine Flori, who is also a ballet dancer, began Millepied’s training when he was eight years old. From there he studied ballet with Michel Rahn at the Conservative National.
In the summer of his fifteenth year Millepied studied at the School of American Ballet and returned the next year as a full-time student. He was able to do this via a scholarship from the French Ministry. In1995 Millepied moved to New York to join the corps de ballet and was given the rank of soloist in 1998. In 2002 Millepied became principle dancer for the same company and would hold that title until 2011 when he decided to retire from the New York City’s Ballet.
As a choreographer Millepied shaped performances for City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, the School of American Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, the Paris Opera Ballet, Ballet de Genève, and Danses Concertantes, the latter being a company he had a hand in founding.
In 2011 Millepied founded and directed the L.A. Dance Project on a commission from Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance and the Los Angeles Music Center. This project was only projected to last two years but it is still going strong with ballet performances today. In 2013 the L.A. Dance Project toured the Holland Festival in Amsterdam, Istanbul, Spoleto Festival in Italy, Edinburgh International Festival, La Maison de la Danse in Lyon, France, and Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London.
In April of 2013 Millepied premiered Reflections, an original piece, at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. Later that year he was given the position of director of dance at the Paris Opera Ballet and replaced Brigitte Lefévre in October of 2014. He served in that position for two years and resigned.