Noted artist in a new role — NU commencement speaker

"Russians are fatalists," he said, leaning back in his chair. He had begun to relax. "I am blessed that somebody up there is giving me these long years, and I'm interested in my life and my wife and my kids and my grandkids."

He has four children, one with the actor Jessica Lange and three with Lisa Rinehart, a fellow dancer who came with him to Evanston. Their daughter Anna is studying acting at Northwestern, which is how he came to be this year's graduation speaker.

When the kids were young, he tried to be home in time for dinner. Now that they're all out of the house, he stays out late. He gets up most mornings and goes to his office at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, an arts complex he founded in Manhattan.

And sometimes he dances.

"It hurts more," he said, "and there's a longer warm-up."

He stays in shape with a regular dance routine, physical therapy and stretching.

"Choreographers use me as the old guy who still dances," he said. "Not that I put on white tights."

He leaves the white tights to the young people. And he likes dancing with them, likes their energy, just as he enjoyed being the "rookie" actor on "Sex and the City," forced to keep up and learn new tricks.

"I'm an impatient person in many respects," he said. "I like to put myself in uncomfortable situations. It forces me to deliver."

And he's far from done, though having come from a place where men die young, he can't help but continue to think about his mortality.

"Every night," he said. "Of course. But I don't panic yet."

He laughed.

"A little bit of panic about tomorrow's speech."