Mikhail Nikolaevich Baryshnikov is a Soviet-born Russian American dancer, choreographer, and actor, often cited alongside Vaslav Nijinsky and Rudolf Nureyev as one of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century. After a promising start in the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad, he defected to Canada in 1974 for more opportunities in western dance. After freelancing with many companies, he joined the New York City Ballet as a principal dancer to learn George Balanchine's style of movement. He then moved to dance and later became artistic director with the American Ballet Theatre, also in New York.Baryshnikov has spearheaded many of his own artistic projects and has been associated in particular with promoting modern dance, premiering dozens of new works, including many of his own. His success as a dramatic actor on stage, cinema and television has helped him become probably the most widely recognized contemporary ballet dancer.From 1990 to 2002, Baryshnikov was director and dancer with the White Oak Dance Project, which he co-founded with choreographer Mark Morris. White Oak was born of Baryshnikov’s desire “to be a driving force in the production of art,” and, indeed, it expanded the repertoire and visibility of American modern dance.In 2005, he opened the Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC), a creative home for local and international artists to develop and present work.