Mikhail Nikolaevich Baryshnikov (Latvian: Mihails Barišnikovs) born January 27, 1948, 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. Born in Riga to Russian parents, now in independent Latvia, Baryshnikov began his ballet studies there in 1960. 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 New York to dance with the American Ballet Theatre, where he later became artistic director.