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Ukrainian dancers forge ahead with Tchaikovsky

Bill DeYoung



State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine, "Sleeping Beauty." Publicity photo.

In December, Ukraine’s culture minister Oleksandr Tkachenko called for his country’s artists to – at least temporarily – boycott works by Russian composers.

“We’re not talking about canceling Tchaikovsky, but rather about pausing performances of his works until Russia ceases its bloody invasion,” Tkachenko wrote in The Guardian. “Ukrainian cultural venues have already done this with him and other Russian composers. We’re calling on our allies to do the same.”

Ukrainian cultural organizations have, for the most part, ignored the call to boycott – art being art, after all. This includes the State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine, which visits the Mahaffey Theater Friday with its touring performance of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty.

The story of Princess Aurora, sent into a 100-year slumber by the evil fairy Carabosse, is performed with lavish sets and costumes. The Guardian calls the production “a master class in classical style,” with “some of the most delightful steps in the 19th-century repertoire.”

The Nutcracker is Tchaikovsky’s most famous ballet score; it’s a longtime cash cow for dance companies during the Christmas season. Very few, if any, productions were canceled during the season just past.

A spokesperson for London’s Royal Ballet told NPR: “The presentation of great historic works such as The Nutcracker, performed by an international roster of dancers, should send a powerful statement that Tchaikovsky — himself of Ukrainian heritage — and his works speak to all humanity, in direct and powerful opposition to the narrow and nationalistic view of culture peddled by the Kremlin.”

Ekaterina Vaganova-Yachmennikova is the artistic director of the State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine. She and her husband Artem Yachmennikoff are former professional dancers who operate We Dance, a school in Melbourne, on Florida’s east coast.

“Dancers already have a very short artistic life,” she told Pointe magazine. “Our priority has to be the human life. So the fact that they are able to continue to do their job is priceless given the surrounding circumstances.”

Covertly rehearsing Sleeping Beauty in Ukraine, she continued, and leaving for the United States took its toll on the 55-member cast. “These dancers were forced to leave their homes, and even their families,” Vaganova-Yachmennikova said, “and we have to keep our location in Ukraine undisclosed. But now in the U.S., they’re able to live in some sort of normality; they don’t have to wake up to the sound of sirens.”

Tickets for Friday’s performance are here.


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