Mikhail Baryshnikov trained with the Kirov Ballet in Russia, where he was a principal dancer. In 1974, he defected to the United States and instantly became a star soloist. After dancing for the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) and the New York City Ballet, he became the director of ABT in 1980. Under his direction, ABT became a strong, vital company. Baryshnikov broke down the traditional casting system used in the company to give youthful corps dancers a chance at having lead roles. In an effort to integrate modern dance and ballet together, Baryshnikov formed the White Oaks Dance Project and began working as a dancer with modern dance choreographers, such as Twyla Tharp. Her piece, Push Comes to Shove, choreographed for ABT and starring Baryshnikov, was accepted by both the modern dance and the ballet world. Under Baryshnikov’s influence, it has become more acceptable for modern dance choreographers to work with classical ballet companies, and that trend continues today.