Mikhail Baryshnikov, Photo by Jacques Moatti Pictured: Mikhail Baryshnikov in Twyla Tharp's Pergolesi (1993). Originally a duet for Baryshnikov and Tharp. Tharp reworked the piece into a solo for Baryshnikov, which he performed with the White Oak Dance Project. (Photograph by Jacques Moatti; courtesy of Sipa.)

Born in Latvia, Mikhail Baryshnikov
(1948- ) studied at Leningrad's Vaganova Institute under Alexander Pushkin. In 1967 he made his debut with the Kirov Ballet and soon revealed the technical mastery and stylistic refinement of a danseur noble. In 1974 he defected from the Soviet Union and joined American Ballet Theatre, where he danced all the great classical roles, formed a luminous partnership with Gelsey Kirkland, and starred in Twyla Tharp's crossover ballet Push Comes to Shove. In 1980, after a brief stint with the New York City Ballet, he became artistic director of ABT. During his tenure, which lasted until 1989, he upgraded the corps, restaged various classics, and commissioned works from innovative choreographers, such as Mark Morris and Choo San Goh. In 1990 he formed the White Oak Dance Project, a concert group with an eclectic repertory of modern dance works. The greatest male dancer of his time, Baryshnikov has starred in movies and television specials, demonstrating the versatility and appeal of his art.

Learn more in Mikhail Baryshnikov, an essay by Stephanie Thibeault.

Mikhail Baryshnikov in Apollo, New York City Ballet, 1978. Baryshnikov's short stint at NYCB allowed him to dance some of George Balanchine's masterpieces, such as Apollo; throughout his career, Baryshnikov has sought opportunities to expand and diversify his repertoire as a dancer. (Photo by Paul Kolnik. Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust.)