Stranded Abroad, Kyiv City Ballet Announces Its First American Tour

The dance company has been staying in Paris since the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Ukrainian ballet dancers
Unable to return home, dancers from the Kyiv City Ballet rehearse for a fundraising performance; ticket sales will go toward relief efforts in Ukraine. Photo by Ian Forsyth / Getty Images

On February 23, the Kyiv City Ballet arrived in Paris to perform a children’s version of The Nutcracker. The tour was supposed to last two weeks. But the next day, Russia invaded Ukraine—and the company has remained in Paris ever since.

As the war drags on, the dancers’ future remains uncertain. In the meantime, though, the company has announced that it will make its first United States tour this fall, the New York Times’ Kalia Richardson reports. Starting in September, the tour will visit 13 cities, among them Chicago, New York, Detroit and Charlotte.

“Touring the States for the first time with a range of ballets makes an important global statement,” says artistic director Ivan Kozlov in a statement. “It demonstrates the resilience of the Ukrainian people.”

Featured performances will include Swan Lake and three other repertory works, per the Times. (The ballet lists on its website GiselleSleeping Beauty, and Romeo and Juliet as some of the classical ballets it frequently performs.) The troupe will also participate in New York City Center’s upcoming Fall for Dance Festival.

When news broke of the Russian invasion, “everyone was on their phones, everyone was allowed to bring their phones onstage so they could stay [in touch] with their families,” Kozlov tells Lisa Bryant of Voice of America (VOA). “Everybody was shocked. Everybody didn’t know what to do.”

Some members of the troupe tried to go back to Ukraine to enlist in the army but were turned away due to lack of experience, Kozlov tells the Times. Paris’ City Hall granted the dancers artistic residency at the Théâtre du Châtelet and has housed them at a suburban hotel, per VOA.

“You can only create when you are free, and we need to hear what they are expressing,” Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, told the Times’ Aurelien Breeden and Marina Harss in March. “They will be here for as long as it takes; I am absolutely not setting any deadline.”

The company only brought the costumes it needed for its Nutcracker tour. All of the troupe’s other possessions—music, videos, documents—were left behind in Kyiv.

“We were totally unprepared for this,” director Ekaterina Kozlova told National Geographic’s Madeleine Schwartz in March. “We basically just psychologically said goodbye to everything that we have.”

Donations have supplied the company with tights and leotards, and a grant from the Trust for Mutual Understanding has covered travel costs, per the Times. Kozlov says that the dancers want to share both their art and their spirit of strength in the face of war on the tour and are hoping to share Ukrainian stories with American dancers through workshops and classes.

The troupe performs ballet in addition to traditional Ukrainian dances, which feature vibrant costumes, broad gestures and bouncing movements. While classical ballet is considered to be one of Russia’s greatest art forms and has been used as a display of nationalism by various regimes, it was also used as a political tool during the Soviet Union to subtly speak out against the era’s leaders.

Many Ukrainian and Russian ballet students train at the same schools. Koslov has many friends in Russia, he told the Times in March: “They are telling me that they would love to say or do something, but they cannot because they are afraid.”

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