On Feb. 23, 2022, members of the Kyiv City Ballet left their home in Ukraine, heading for Paris, France.
The next day, they were confronted with devastating news. Russia had invaded their country. Since that moment six months ago, none of the ballet troupe has been back home.
“The beginning of the war was totally unexpected for all of us,” said Ivan Kozlov, the Kyiv City Ballet’s artistic director.
Although most of the 38-member troupe—the majority of dancers are between 18 and 22 years old—are in contact with family in Ukraine, the intensity of emotions such as fear, anger and helplessness has not abated, he said, but they have been softened by worldwide support.
“Our feelings have not lessened, but the support from our audiences and theaters around the world, in France and the United States helps us so much,” Kozlov said.
The support will continue when the ballet company comes to America for its first U.S. tour. From Sept. 16 until Oct. 25, the troupe will perform in 15 cities, including three performances at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
The performances will take place Oct. 5-7 in the newly renovated Roland Hayes Concert Hall in the UTC Fine Arts Center. Tickets are on sale through the center’s box office.
The performances will include a full-length performance of Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” on Oct. 5 (choreography by Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov and Ivan Kozlov) and mixed repertory programs with Chattanooga Ballet on Oct. 6-7.
“Bringing the Kyiv City Ballet to UTC is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Robert Boyer, director of the UTC Performance Series and the Fine Arts Center box office supervisor. “This is an opportunity for Chattanooga to see some of the most disciplined dancers they will ever see.
“From a humanitarian standpoint, we could not just stand by and do nothing when we heard that this tour was shaping up and it was a way to provide support for 40-plus people who are, in effect, refugees.”
Other cities on the tour include New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Montgomery and Opelika in Alabama, Oklahoma City and Wilmington, North Carolina. All ticket sales revenue from the U.S. tour goes directly to the Kyiv City Ballet.
“Everyone is excited to travel to the United States and share our art with audiences,” Kozlov said. “We have been so lucky to receive warm welcomes and wonderful reactions from audiences all over the world. I am sure that the audiences in the United States will be incredible.”
During the Kyiv City Ballet’s stay in Chattanooga, the Chattanooga Ballet—one of the sponsors who helped bring the Ukrainian company to the city—will have its own performances in the Hayes Concert Hall on Oct. 6-7.
On Oct. 7, it will share the stage with the Kyiv company. As the first part of the program, the Chattanooga Ballet will debut two new works, “Some Day, Some Time” with choreography by Chattanooga Ballet Artistic Director Brian McSween, and “Élégiaque” with choreography by Nashville Artistic Director Mollie Sansone.
Being part of the performance schedule with the Kyiv City Ballet is a positive on two levels for the Chattanooga Ballet, McSween said.
One focuses on the Kyiv dancers.
“It’s important to remember that ballet careers are limited. They’re not too far removed from professional athletic careers in that they have a limited shelf life,” he said. “So any time when you are not dancing or any time when you are not using your art form, for a dancer that provides a lot of pressure because you don’t have an endless amount of opportunities to do that.
“A tour like this allows them to continue to flex their artistic muscles. It allows them to continue to do what they’ve been training to do and not feel like that is another thing being sacrificed along with everything else they’ve lost.”
For the Chattanooga Ballet, it’s a chance to perform in front of an audience of people who may never have seen the city’s ballet company perform, McSween said.
“They may not realize that Chattanooga has a very good, professional ballet company,” he said. “It’s not students; it’s not a group of dancers that just meet occasionally. They make Chattanooga their home. They are employed full-time by us.
“It gives our community the chance to see us, to be proud, to say, ‘Hey, Chattanooga is producing at a high artistic level in the field of dance through the Chattanooga Ballet.’”
In Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgo helped find a hotel for the Kyiv City Ballet members, and they’ve been given Théâtre du Châtelet as a rehearsal space. Ironically, it’s the first time the company, founded in 2012, has had a home theater in which to practice. Touring has always been the Kyiv City Ballet’s lifeblood.
While in Paris, they’ve taken classes at the famed Paris Opera during the day, then watched performances of its ballet company at night. Tights and leotards have been donated to the Ukrainian dancers.
Beyond showing American audiences the skills and professionalism of the ballet company, the tour has an extra level of meaning for the Kyiv City Ballet company.
“We stay here because we can dance. We can represent our country,” Kyiv City Ballet dancer Elizaveta Nadenenko, 18, told Harper’s Bazaar magazine.
Kozlov echoed that sentiment.
“We feel that our tour makes a statement showing the invincibility of the Ukrainian people,” he said.