Russian ballerina Olga Smirnova has shown her disdain for her country's invasion of Ukraine by leaving the Bolshoi Ballet. Smirnova, a prima ballerina who has been with the historic company for a decade, will now dance for the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam. Her decision lends another voice to the Russians who are denouncing Vladimir Putin's decision to invade Ukraine.
Like many Russians, Smirnova has family ties to Ukraine. Her grandfather is Ukrainian and she describes herself as “one-quarter Ukrainian.” Since March 1, the ballerina has been communicating with her fans via the Telegram messaging app and telling them that she is “against war with every fiber of my soul.”
In a statement republished by the Dutch National Ballet, she made her feelings clear. “In a modern and enlightened world, I expect civilized societies to resolve political matters only through peaceful negotiations. I never thought I would be ashamed of Russia, I have always been proud of talented Russian people, of our cultural and athletic achievements. But now I feel that a line has been drawn that separates the before and the after.
“It hurts that people are dying, that people are losing the roofs over their heads or are forced to abandon their homes. And who would have thought a few weeks ago that all of this would happen? We may not be at the epicenter of the military conflict, but we cannot remain indifferent to this global catastrophe.”
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Smirnova's statement is important at a time when Putin has enacted new laws that make it illegal to discuss the Ukraine invasion in a manner that is not in line with what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation.” Individuals found guilty of breaking the law could face up to 15 years in prison.
While the ballerina states that she had been thinking of leaving the Bolshoi for some time, the current situation accelerated that process. Cultural institutions around the world are cutting ties with Russian artists and institutions that do not denounce the war. One such institution is the New York Metropolitan Opera, which was set to stage a co-production with the Bolshoi next year.
While Smirnova's departure is perhaps the most prominent, several other dancers have also left the company in light of current events. This includes Brazilian soloist David Motta Soares and Italian principal dancer Jacopo Tissi. Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, who grew up in Ukraine, canceled a premiere at the Bolshoi Theatre after the invasion. Ratmansky, who was the Bolshoi Ballet's artistic director from 2004 to 2008, was about the launch a dance company in Moscow. He's since left the country and told The New York Times that he doubted he would work in Russia again as long as Putin was president.
Given the popularity of dance in Russia and ballet's deep ties with the country, the decision of these dancers is likely to make an impact. For now, those waiting to see Smirnova in action won't have to wait long. She'll make her debut with the Dutch National Ballet in its production of Raymonda in early April.
Russian prima ballerina Olga Smirnova has left the Bolshoi Ballet after denouncing the war in Ukraine.
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