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CNN Larry King Weekend

Interview with Mikhail Baryshnikov

Aired May 05, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, the great Mikhail Baryshnikov. One of the worlds best dancers sits down for a very rare, very personal interview. He risked it all to defect to the west, then danced and romanced his way to internaional stardom.

The amazing Misha is next on LARRY KING WEEKEND.

It is a great pleasure to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE TONIGHT Mikhail Baryshnikov. What can one say about one of the most remarkable dance figures ever? What a great story of coming to the United States under the harshest of circumstances of extraordinary success there and here. Lots to talk about. And he's also the subject of an extraordinary new book, "Baryshnikov in Black and White." It's a photo biography of his dance career in the West.

What's it like to look at those pictures now?

MIKHAIL BARYSHNIKOV, BALLET DANCER: Well, you know, I ran into a friend of mine and said, "What you doing?" You know, I said, "I'm going to Larry King show." He said, "To sell what?"


I said, "To sell my life, I guess." Because this book really represents the adult part of my life.

KING: The West.

BARYSHNIKOV: The West, yes. Almost 30 years of work. And I go through it.

KING: Is it nostalgic?

BARYSHNIKOV: Some of it. Some of it's scary. Some of it's funny. It triggers a lot of moments.

KING: What's scary?

BARYSHNIKOV: Some of the people are not longer with us. Thirty years. Unfortunate moments of deprived friendship, betrayal.

KING: You've live it all.

BARYSHNIKOV: A lot of things. A lot of things. KING: Are there ever moments where you feel sorry you left your country?


KING: Never?

BARYSHNIKOV: Oh, no. Larry, I think that idea that it was so dramatic and so horrible, it's a bit exaggeration. Because, you know, I lived in Soviet Latvia for 16 years, and 10 years in Russia. Soviet regime in a way deprived me from my childhood in my homeland, because my father was in military, and after the Yalta agreement he was sent to teach in military academy in Riga, and I was born then. My mother had a son from previous marriage and her husband died in Second World War.

KING: So you had no childhood to miss, no place to miss?

BARYSHNIKOV: Well, I was a little boy, Russia, little Russian boy, son of the occupant.

KING: Yes.

BARYSHNIKOV: You know, in a way what's really happening, I'm looking now at situation in Palestine, over there, and I told somebody yesterday that I really understand how both sides feel because I lived under the occupation. I was a son of the...

KING: Occupier.

BARYSHNIKOV: ... occupier. But same time, I witnessed how the Latvian people felt. And then it was my friends, Jewish people and the Jews and the Latvians. And then all anti-Semitic tendencies from both sides. And then true hate to -- of Russians and Latvians, for obvious reason.

KING: And you (inaudible) the bouncing ball here.


KING: Between rock and a hard place, as they say.

Refresh us: How did you get out? You were what, 26?

BARYSHNIKOV: I was 26. I was dancing. I went to the short trip, Canadian tour with Bolshoi -- group of Bolshoi Ballet, but it was actually -- the group was assembled from many different republics. Highlights...

KING: The stars of the Russian ballet.

BARYSHNIKOV: That's right. Highlights of the classical -- works of classical...

KING: And you were in Canada where?


KING: What did you do?

BARYSHNIKOV: I just got the message from my closest friends, you know, that if I have any doubts and if I want to stay, they will help me.

KING: Friends in Canada.

BARYSHNIKOV: Friends in United States.

KING: In the United States?


KING: So what did you do, go to the American -- what do you do when you defect?

BARYSHNIKOV: They put me together with young Canadian lawyer whom I met and discussed briefly all options. And I asked him to delay decision until -- I wanted to finish, this was last performance in Toronto, I danced actually last performance, and after performance I joined him in the hideaway car and (inaudible).

KING: You knew then through that whole performance that it would be your last as a Russian dancer.


KING: Were you good that night?

BARYSHNIKOV: I don't remember.


KING: Was it traumatic?

BARYSHNIKOV: Not really. Not really. I knew that -- I was worried about my father, who was still alive at that time, and my stepbrother, stepsister. I knew that they would be under the scrutiny of KGB, of course, and some of my close friends would be really interrogated really seriously.

KING: So that's a cause of concern?


KING: Were you treated well here as soon as you got here.

BARYSHNIKOV: It was extraordinary. I remember after the first performance, this man who'd become a very good friend of mine arranged a party for me in his house. It was Lennie Bernstein, Isaac Stern, Jackie O -- I mean I thought every performance would be like that, you know? I...

KING: Well, you were a major cult figure, because not only for your dancing, but the drama of the story the way you looked...

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes (inaudible)...

KING: ... (inaudible) -- that was a great story.

BARYSHNIKOV: But still those people were very kind to me and Lenny and Isaac...

KING: All gone now.

BARYSHNIKOV: ... to the very end. And they became really good friends, especially Bernstein.

KING: Did anything happen to your father back in Russia or your friends?

BARYSHNIKOV: Well, can you imagine a military officer and high rank...

KING: And the son goes...

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes. It's a surprise. It's embarrassment, of course.

KING: You ever hear from him again?

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes, later on.

KING: He passed away now?

BARYSHNIKOV: He passed away.

KING: In Russia?


KING: Well, it's an extraordinary story, and it leads to an incredible things that happened to you here in so many ways, dancing and movies. One thing that puzzles me is you make the movie "The Turning Point," right?


KING: You get an Academy Award nomination, right?


KING: Why so few movies? You've only done three movies.

BARYSHNIKOV: Well, I realized very soon after "The Turning Point" -- you know, in "Turning Point," I was dancing -- had a couple of acting scenes, but that I really do not belong. Of course, it was a curiosity and admiration of what was sometimes produced in Hollywood.

KING: But you didn't like it? BARYSHNIKOV: I -- you know, I'm not an actor. All this effort were -- you know, I tried very hard to be on the level, but I am not an actor. And...

KING: Even "White Nights" didn't convince you? Gregory Hines?

BARYSHNIKOV: Not really. Not really, and especially no -- "White Nights" was an experience of certain dignity. But later on, it was a couple of projects, one with Gene Hackman...

KING: "Company Business."

BARYSHNIKOV: "Company Business." And Creative Artists Agency put together -- and it was a project of extraordinary mediocrity...


... and colossal stupidity.


KING: Other than that, you loved it.

BARYSHNIKOV: I -- otherwise, it was great. You know, but working with Gene to see -- just to meet him, it was an extraordinary experience.

KING: Speaking of extraordinary, our guest is the extraordinary Mikhail Baryshnikov. We'll be right back.


KING: He is the subject of an extraordinary new book, "Baryshnikov in Black and White." He's director and co-founder of the White Oak Dance Project; we'll be asking about that. He's Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Home is now what? New York?

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes, outside of New York.

KING: You said though that a Russian is always a Russian in his soul. Are you still a Russian?

BARYSHNIKOV: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I read Russian literature a lot. I have a couple of...

KING: Have you been back?

BARYSHNIKOV: No. I went back to...

KING: You could go back now, couldn't you?

BARYSHNIKOV: Oh, yes. I went back to Latvia. My mother is buried there, and I took my two oldest children with me just to visit her grave. And I actually performed a couple of shows. KING: But no desire to go to Russia?

BARYSHNIKOV: No. I still somehow -- I run away from the people very much who are still in charge right now. And I feel very uneasy, at least with, you know, a lot of aspects of the Russian life and the Russian people.

KING: Even though they are a free country now?

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes. But I still feel they are responsible for the misery of my parents. A lot of people who are in charge still were in charge at that time.

KING: You can't get it out of you, then.

BARYSHNIKOV: I cannot -- I cannot forgive them. I cannot that mausoleum in the Red Square are still there and not bulldozed. You know, I...

KING: Didn't Gorbachev ever, like, invite you over to dance?

BARYSHNIKOV: Oh, yes, there were many invitations, and you know, I said another day. Why don't they remove that mausoleum, put nice stage, and I'll come and dance.


KING: Were you a dancer all your life? Did you dance as a kid?

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes. You know, I started dancing -- my first memories in November, the day of the revolution. You know, there was a military parade, and mother and me and my brother used to go to see my father marching along along the river in the military parade. And after the parade, the civilian demonstration, we were all together, it was a semi-drunk bunch of people...


... holding red flags. And when the red light, the (inaudible) or it was when some little -- you know, they were setting up a circle, and all children went ahead and start to dance, with a Russian dance, or a Ukrainian dance or something, you know. And that was the first attention I got from -- that was my first audience, you know. And probably I was pretty good at that, and then I heard this applause. My mother and my father were, kind of, surprised and, of course, proud. "OK, the Baryshnikov son, you know, let him do it again. He's pretty quick."

KING: Is there such a thing as a natural dancer, someone who just dances from the get-go?

BARYSHNIKOV: I guess chutzpah, you know.

KING: Where did you learn to speak English?

BARYSHNIKOV: American TV. I spoke French when I arrived to the States.

KING: How did you know French?


KING: So you spoke Russian and French.

BARYSHNIKOV: Russian, French, Latvian.

KING: And Latvian.

BARYSHNIKOV: And Latvian I forgot right now. But you know, I speak...

KING: So in America by watching television?

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes. Fred Astaire movies, Jimmy Cagney's movies. And I tried to understand the news.

KING: You sure did well.

Was it nervous the first time you danced in a free country, in America? Well, you danced in Canada, of course, that's a free country. The first time you danced as a free person?

BARYSHNIKOV: Oh, I was dancing with my favorite partner, Natalia Makarova (ph).

KING: Is that -- where, in New York?

BARYSHNIKOV: In New York, Lincoln Center in States here it was Bally (ph) Theater. Lucia Chase (ph) invited me to do this debut in...

KING: Nervous?

BARYSHNIKOV: Of course. Of course. But, I was quite home with her. She made it. She made me feel really...

KING: By the way, can two people be great dancers and not necessarily be great dancers together?

BARYSHNIKOV: Of course, it happens a lot.

KING: Really. So you could be great, she could be great, but it don't mean the two of you are going to be great.


KING: So is this a chemistry thing?

BARYSHNIKOV: Well, there is -- it's a chemistry. It's a question of a philosophy, you know. For example, I like -- I went -- I like to see people are -- when people who dance together like in ice skating, they dance together because they are in unison, yes? And I don't care about that kind of partnership. I like the most provocative and most surprising partnerships on stage.

KING: Intensity?

BARYSHNIKOV: Intensity and surprise. And Natalia Makarov (ph) or Gelsey Kirkland (ph), you know, Elaine Seymour (ph) in the Royal Ballet were partners whom I really adored to dance there.

KING: What, Mikhail, is modern dance as opposed to ballet? What -- you're not a ballet dancer any more, right?


KING: You do modern dance.


KING: Which is?

BARYSHNIKOV: Well, this is a...

KING: Jazz?

BARYSHNIKOV: No, this is different form of dance which is actually very much a North American tradition, nothing with great historic figures, you know.

KING: Balanchine?

BARYSHNIKOV: Oh, Balanchine, of course, but it's neo-classical dance, which is based on a classical tradition.

KING: West Side Story?

BARYSHNIKOV: It's a Broadway, you know, but before Balanchine as well as Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham (ph) and Catherine Dunham (ph) and Linda Cunningham (ph).

KING: These were innovative...


BARYSHNIKOV: And it's a classic, you know, middle of the road modern dance.

KING: Can you still dance a lot? Didn't you have a bad knee?

BARYSHNIKOV: Oh, I had a few operations, five or six or so in my right knee. No, I am in pretty good shape. And I work on material which is -- I can do full out and without any cheating, so to speak.

KING: Do dancers cheat?

BARYSHNIKOV: Oh, they do.

KING: Yes.

BARYSHNIKOV: And they cheat really well.

KING: Are there good cheaters?


KING: Our guest is Mikhail Baryshnikov. He is the subject of the book, "Baryshnikov in Black and White." Lots more to talk about with this extraordinary figure in the history of world music. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with the great Baryshnikov.

Did you ever think you were too small?

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes, I was, and I still am.



KING: Height is still the same. Were dancers generally taller than you?

BARYSHNIKOV: For a classical premier, you know for the leading dancer, I was a bit small.

KING: But when we looked at Gene Kelly, he was short.

BARYSHNIKOV: (inaudible).

KING: Fred Astaire wasn't tall.

BARYSHNIKOV: Slim and long.

KING: What did Astaire do? Why do so many dancers talk about Astaire?

BARYSHNIKOV: It's unmatched perfection. It's a taste, understanding of his strength, and weaknesses in a way. He was not a sexual animal, but he made his partners look so extraordinarily related to him.

KING: When a great dancer like yourself looks at an Astaire -- you watch the Astaire movies -- could you do what he did?


KING: No, and he couldn't do what you did. This is apples and oranges.


KING: Two different, completely different, kinds of dancing. So you can admire what he did, right? Without having the ability -- I know that some musicians will say, "I can play drums, but I can't play drums like he plays drums."

BARYSHNIKOV: I sometimes run into the situations like that, and that's why I really reject that kind of comparison that says, "Oh, he is the best. This is the second best." Dance, an art.

KING: There is no "the best."

BARYSHNIKOV: There is no such thing.

KING: You were picked out in Russia by Pushkin, right?

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes, I was extraordinary lucky, again. Extraordinary, extraordinary. I'm repeating myself all the time, but...

KING: You've led an extraordinary life.

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes. While dancing with Riga Ballet as a teenager in Leningrad -- St. Petersburg, one friend of mine took me just, and introduced me to this man, whom she knew. And he examined me briefly, and said, "I'll take you to my class," which was luckily the same age boys he was...

KING: Examining, meaning you had to do a few steps for him?

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes, I danced a bit for him.

KING: He took you on the spot.


KING: And what he did bring to you?

BARYSHNIKOV: Well, man was a genius, you know? First of all, it was a father figure, obviously, because I left home at age 16 --15, and it was my -- first of all, my second home. And this person was the biggest influence. Kind, very quiet, but he made me laugh, cry. It was very intense relationship like everything in Russia.

KING: Everything is intense. We were told though that if you were a dancer of high degree in Russia, in the Soviet Union, you were treated very well.


KING: Life was good.

BARYSHNIKOV: I had everything.

KING: Still you wanted to leave?

BARYSHNIKOV: Well, at that point, I realized it was a dead-end. Because I knew I didn't want to be just a classical dancer. And there were not that many experimental choreographers around. I wanted to...

KING: You wanted to do other things? BARYSHNIKOV: I wanted to go and meet people in the West. That's what I wanted to do.

You know, I never planned to leave. I was not extremely patriotic about Mother Russia. You know, I played their game, pretending, of course. You have to deal with, you know, party people, KGB...

KING: Tough way to live.

BARYSHNIKOV: Horrifying.

KING: Did you also frankly want to have money?


KING: That was not the goal?


KING: The golden West?

BARYSHNIKOV: The goal was never related to monetary elements.

KING: Freedom was the goal.


KING: Did you retain friendships from those days by the way?


KING: Ever hear from people?

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes, I see them sometimes.

KING: They come over here, because you don't go there?

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes, they come here. Or neutral territory somewhere in Europe. I have a little place in Paris, and sometimes I meet people in Paris. It's easier for them to get to Paris.

KING: What is the White Oak Dance Project?

BARYSHNIKOV: The project, which was started like 12 years ago when I was at a crossroads of my career, sort of left American ballet theater, of which I was director for close to 10 years. It was a bit of a dramatic exit; it was a bit of -- partially success, but mostly failure. I was very, sort of, disappointed, the way it came out. And the way I left, and I was looking for...

KING: Disappointed in them, or you, or both?

BARYSHNIKOV: Both. It was a bit of both. I admit it was a lot of -- I did some mistakes, but I was not helped. Not sometimes, not by the management, not by the press, and not by the dancers. KING: So what do we mean by White Oak?

BARYSHNIKOV: It's a group of dancers who -- we co-founded with Mark Morris (ph). Now, so it's great talent.

KING: And what does the project do?

BARYSHNIKOV: We perform new work.

KING: New composers?

BARYSHNIKOV: New composers, new choreographers, established choreographers, choreographers of first try...

KING: And perform where?

BARYSHNIKOV: Everywhere. Around the world and United States.

KING: Do you perform a lot too?

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes. I am in every show.

KING: You are in every show?


KING: And you know that with the injured knee, there are things you can't do, right?

BARYSHNIKOV: Well, I take -- when I work with the choreographers, the first thing -- it's the rules of the game. I say when I work with friends, they know exactly what I can do but I cannot. The choreographer whom -- the first time I am saying, "Listen, this knee will scream, you know? I cannot do this, there are certain range of motion I can do, certain levels, the register."

KING: Does it bug you when you can't do things, just because of an injury, you used to be able to do?

BARYSHNIKOV: Not really. Not really. I miss -- like today I took class with the City Ballet at Lincoln Center, and I realize, of course, I do miss those moments when I was dancing full out and jumped. But I actually -- as I say, an old practice for an hour and a half, I was together with 18-, 19-year-olds, and I'm 54.

KING: You still have to practice?

BARYSHNIKOV: Of course, every day.

KING: I'll ask about that.

Our guest is Mikhail Baryshnikov. The book is "Baryshnikov in Black and White." Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARYSHNIKOV: It is a pleasure of mind, body, eye. That jam session beween the audience and the dancer. It is a bit of a voyeur experience, an experience of a masochist, and an experience of an observer. You can be totally involved, you could admire just the shape of it or you could be totally emotionally mushed up into the dance. It's so many surfaces, dance.


KING: Our guest is Mikhail Baryshnikov.

What was it like to -- I know the Twyla Tharp thing when you did the Sinatra thing.

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes, Sinatra...

KING: Dancing to Frank.


KING: What was that like?

BARYSHNIKOV: It was a pleasure. It was a pleasure. Actually once, on Ronald Reagan's second inauguration...

KING: Inaugural?

BARYSHNIKOV: ... inaugural, I dance, "It's Quarter to 3," with Frank singing it on stage in Washington.

KING: Well.

BARYSHNIKOV: That was wow. That was something, especially during the rehearsal, late afternoon, there was just few stagehands sitting around and just him and me, and he has his brandy and his cigarette, just sitting. And I was dancing. And I looked around and all these men, tough cookies, they're really crying. And in the evening it was a bit more -- he forgot -- he couldn't switch from one phrase to another, he repeat few. It was still a memory of my life.

KING: "It's a quarter to 3, there's no one in the place, except." Were you sitting at a bar to start with?

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes. Just walking, sitting, and he took his drink with a cigarette and I start dancing.

KING: You also were with Balanchine in the New York City Ballet, right?

BARYSHNIKOV: Balanchine and Robbins.

KING: You've worked with some pretty good people.


KING: Nureyev, you ever work with Nureyev? BARYSHNIKOV: We danced together. We never worked -- you know, his choreography, the classical stagings, not quite fit me technically. But we were friends.

KING: He preceded you, right?


KING: He came over first.

Tell me about your life. You married?

BARYSHNIKOV: I'm not legally married, but I live with my partner, wife or girlfriend, the way you in America...

KING: Long time?

BARYSHNIKOV: Long time already. We know each other for 20 years, but we live together like for 12 or so...

KING: Have how many children?

BARYSHNIKOV: Three children together. My oldest daughter with Jessica Lange, you know, next year she will be to college.

KING: Do you remain friendly with Jessica?

BARYSHNIKOV: Oh, very close. She is the closest, one of the closest people ever. I have extraordinary admiration to both of them, Jessica and Sam, you know. These people are superb, absolutely superb.

KING: Do any of your children dance?

BARYSHNIKOV: No. They're interested in sports. My son is a hockey player, and the girls are very much gymnastics.

KING: Would you like them to dance?


KING: It's up to them or not.

BARYSHNIKOV: It's up to them.

KING: Is it a tough life, the dancer's life?

BARYSHNIKOV: It is a tough life. And it's not -- I shouldn't say it's tough or not. Sometimes I give advice. I cannot judge because I really -- I had all privileges, and people wanted to work with me, people invite me to work here and there. People who are in the corps de ballet (ph) or in some fellow position, some company, in civic company, have different perspective to this profession. It is very difficult.

KING: There any reason why you didn't marry? BARYSHNIKOV: I don't believe in marriage in the conventional way. I am not religious person, and marriage in front of altar wouldn't say anything to me.

KING: You don't feel you have to...

BARYSHNIKOV: My mother and father's marriages -- marriage, kind of, never happened.

KING: Oh, it happened?

BARYSHNIKOV: It did happen, but my mother...

KING: It didn't happen happen.

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes. My mother commit suicide for unknown reason. They didn't live together well.

KING: So you've seen pain.

BARYSHNIKOV: I've seen pain. I've seen a lot of -- the stamp or the legality are not holding people...

KING: Did you marry Jessica?

BARYSHNIKOV: No, we never...

KING: You never married either. So you've never been married.

BARYSHNIKOV: I was never married. It's not -- the commitment to people, it's nothing to do with marriage.

KING: Nothing to do with making you a good father or not, right?


KING: The children know it, too?

BARYSHNIKOV: Children, they asking questions, and we were trying to explain the way we understand this. You know, what do we know. You know, I am a bit of an absent father, too, and trying to be, because of my profession and my travel schedules, and there's a guilt. And, of course, I always remember people -- like somebody said, people of art should never get married and have children, you know.

KING: Because their art comes first.

BARYSHNIKOV: Because its a selfish experience.

KING: Well, it is, right, with you and the stage?


KING: What wife can compete with an audience?

BARYSHNIKOV: No matter what, your child is sick, but you wake up in the morning, first thing automatically, what I'm doing. Oh, my son is sick. You know, I mean it's fight.

KING: It's hard.


KING: And it's almost a mixed blessing, isn't it? You have this talent, but it takes away in other areas.


KING: Did you enjoy your celebritydom? I mean, you were with Liza Minelli and Jessica Lange and all the parties, "Baryshikov is coming to my party." I remember there was nowhere you could go without -- you were the hit of New York.

BARYSHNIKOV: You know, it opens a lot of doors for work, but I get speeding ticket like everybody else. You know, (inaudible) it was really embarrassing.

KING: You drive yourself, right?


KING: You don't like drivers.


KING: You learned to even take a scratch on the car, right? I taught you this. It's a great story. Tell this story. You saw me.

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes. Years ago you said in your show that, "I had this dent in my car and I was just driving myself nuts for a week," and then suddenly, after the open heart...

KING: My surgery.

BARYSHNIKOV: ... surgery you said, "Well, life is kind of..."

KING: What does a dent matter?

BARYSHNIKOV: A dent in a car is a dent in a car. I had the same thing. For a minute I was fuming and suddenly I remembered your remark and I realized, a dent, yes, I have a dent in me, dent in the car, a dent -- probably dent in my brain sometimes I feel. But so it goes.

KING: So what.


KING: But did you enjoy the celebrity aspect? Did you enjoy being famous in a city like New York, in a country like America?

BARYSHNIKOV: It's weird, Larry, sometimes it's very pleasant actually. A little girl comes to me, a little girl, let's say 20- years-old woman comes to me and said, "When my mom was young she saw you dance," you know, and this and that.

No, but I'm waiting, if the restaurant is full I'm waiting in line like everybody else, if it's not your restaurant, you know. In my restaurant...

KING: Do you have a restaurant?


KING: Where?

BARYSHNIKOV: Russian Samovar. It's on 52nd Street. It used to be Jilly's.

KING: That's your restaurant, the Russia Samovar?

BARYSHNIKOV: It's my restaurant, yes.

KING: I didn't know that.

BARYSHNIKOV: It used to be Frank Sinatra's...

KING: Frank and Jilly.

BARYSHNIKOV: And Jilly, you know. I used to go there with Nora Kaye.

KING: Boring life.

We'll be right back with Mikhail Baryshnikov -- the book is "Baryshnikov in Black and White" -- on this very special LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.



GREGORY HINES, DANCER: I remember the first time we danced together. We were going to do a movie called "White Knights," we went into the rehersal studio, I remember the first time we jumped up into the air together and I came down...


... and then he came down. An amazing dancer and an amazing human being and I know how difficult a decision it was to come here to America. I know that, but I know that I can speak for everyone in America who has ever seen you dance, when I tell you that we are so happy that you did come here.


KING: Our guest is the great Mikhail Baryshnikov. The book is "Baryshnikov in Black and White." He's director and founder of the White Oak Dance Project. And this is a remarkable new photo biography of his dance career in the West. How'd you put up those times when you were the subject of lots of gossip columns? Baryshnikov with this woman. It bother you or not?

BARYSHNIKOV: Next question. It bothered, of course. And some of the mostly totally speculatively things they're not truth and they're known. But I guess I was accepting this as a part of the cultural need for that kind of thing, you know.

KING: Doesn't exist where you lived before though?

BARYSHNIKOV: No, of course not.

KING: So that's a down side of the West?

BARYSHNIKOV: Well, there's a lot of down sides to the West, you know, you take -- you accept as a part of your new world. And -- but I wouldn't regret one second.

KING: Ever.

Where were you on September 11?

BARYSHNIKOV: I was driving to a golf tournament in New Jersey hosted by my good friend Joe Pesci. And I was looking forward to play with Charles Barkley and John Daly and Joe for a practice round. And right next to Lincoln Tunnel on New Jersey side, I saw that cloud, 9 o'clock in the morning.

KING: You just come through the tunnel. You saw the cloud?

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes. And I thought that it's just a fire. I punched 1010 WIN and it said the first plane hit the tower. And when I arrived to the country club, the second plane and story unfurled.

KING: Didn't play that day?

BARYSHNIKOV: You know what? We went -- because we were so overwhelmed, we went, were hacking...

KING: You played?

BARYSHNIKOV: ... just a few holes with Joe and then came back and had a few martinis just to numb ourselves.

KING: Did you have trouble getting back into the city?

BARYSHNIKOV: No, because I live in the country. I live in Palisades, but I took big tour around. It took me three hours to come back home.

KING: What were you thinking?

BARYSHNIKOV: Why? Why? When and where United States government made this big poo-poo somewhere that so many millions of people are -- historically, it was in '20s and '30s, how did Americans first of influences, oil, strategic... KING: You were wondering why they were so angry at us?


KING: What caused that anger?

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes. Starting when, why?

KING: You didn't blame us, though, did you?

BARYSHNIKOV: Are you kidding? No, of course. But for me was what do we do not know about the Far East, Middle East?

KING: A lot.

BARYSHNIKOV: A lot. And, of course, we know now a bit more of what that time government done and...

KING: When your country -- your former country, was fighting in Afghanistan, did you talk to friends? Did they know what...

BARYSHNIKOV: You know, at least here, we know what they're fighting for and the cause of the result. Thousands of young men and women who lost their lives in Russia didn't know anything why they are in Afghanistan, for some vague reason. It was arranged by KGB and certain political factions in the government, you know.

KING: They all died in vain, didn't they?

BARYSHNIKOV: Unbelievable. And at least here on television, every man and woman who lost their life, there is interview with their parents and the president is personally, you know, addressing -- you know, this is a awesome sight.

KING: Do you fear it's going to get worse?

BARYSHNIKOV: I am afraid so. I am afraid so. I -- as again, back to original, you know, the first beginning of our conversation, I have been -- I have witnessed occupation. I know how people can hate each other. I've been there. I was -- they were my friends.

And what brought me to the theater, actually, that scene in the street and the scene in the theater when everything, no matter you're a Jew or you are Russian or you are Armenian or you are Latvian, are suddenly eliminated by stage light and one beautiful image of dance. And every -- all those elements so irrelevant. That's why I think art education, especially in this country, which government pretty much ignores, is so important for young people.

KING: Beautifully put.

We'll be back with our remaining moments with Mikhail Baryshnikov. The book is "Baryshnikov in Black and White," one of the great names in the history of dance. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARYSHNIKOV: I have been extremely, extremely luck to spend a good part of my life behind an iron curtain, where everthing is -- your education is paid for you by the government. I am very excited to share our success with all of you guys and good luck.



KING: We're back with Mikhail Baryshnikov.

You said you still have to practice.

BARYSHNIKOV: Every day .

KING: Why?

BARYSHNIKOV: Well, I cannot go on stage without keeping myself in shape, you know. When we work, we work six, seven hours, you know. My working day between eight and seven hours.

KING: Do you still work teaching?

BARYSHNIKOV: Not really, no. When I take a class, I try to get my blood going and warm up and stretch my muscles. You know, because I'm not doing any more any classical routines on stage.

KING: Is it still a thrill to dance?

BARYSHNIKOV: Oh, it's nothing better than that. It's wonderful. It's wonderful. But it's almost over, and I have to accept, you know, there is a question of a year or two and...

KING: And you have to stop?

BARYSHNIKOV: Oh, I'll have to stop. It will be no, you know, balloons and farewell performances. Of course, I will step...

KING: No farewell tour?

BARYSHNIKOV: No, no, no, no. Because I will do something else, and maybe related to the theater -- why bother?

In a way, legally, I retired many years ago. And I -- when I from the big business, a big business I mean to dance in the theaters like the Metropolitan Opera. When I...

KING: You...

BARYSHNIKOV: ... stepped out when I was in my early 40s from the world of classical ballet. It was my retirement.

Nobody noticed but...


KING: Are you kind of an inveterate golfer now? Do you...

BARYSHNIKOV: Yes, I golf. Joe Pesci introduced me to this game years ago, and I got really hooked at it. It's helped me really to calm myself down a lot.

KING: Really. I know some people, it drives crazy .

BARYSHNIKOV: No, I live next to a golf course, and sometimes I just -- like yesterday at 4:30 in the evening, I went and I walked nine holes alone, you now. It was just such a...

KING: A nice walk...

BARYSHNIKOV: ... refreshing moment.

KING: ... interrupted, Mark Twain said, I think.

BARYSHNIKOV: No, I'm getting better. My goal in a year to get to single digits.

KING: Mikhail, this has been an honor.


KING: I'm been looking forward to it for along time.

BARYSHNIKOV: A pleasure.

KING: Mikhail Baryshnikov, what can we say? We hope you enjoyed this as much as I did.

The book is "Baryshnikov in Black and White," a photo biography of his dance career in the West. He's director and co-founder of the White Oak Dance Project. One of the great figures in the history of dance worldwide

I'm Larry King.

Good night.