Performing on the same stage as the internationally renowned Kyiv City Ballet from Ukraine is undoubtedly an honor for Chattanooga Ballet, but it’s more than that, said Artistic Director Brian McSween.
“What it means is there will be a lot more people in that audience that may not have ever had any exposure to Chattanooga Ballet, and 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 meets occasionally. They make Chattanooga their home. They are employed full-time by us.”
In an honor for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, both ballet companies will perform Oct. 5-7 in the newly renovated Roland Hayes Concert Hall in the Fine Arts Center.
There are 15 cities on the Kyiv City Ballet tour, which marks the first time it has performed in the U.S. The company is scheduled for three Chattanooga performances co-sponsored by Chattanooga Ballet.
“This is a great opportunity to see just how good our local ballet company is. It’s not just ‘The Nutcracker’ anymore,” said Robert Boyer, director of the UTC Performances Series and the Fine Arts Center box office supervisor.
“To be able to put them with the Kyiv City Ballet is a real opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
With no knowledge that Russia would invade Ukraine the next day, the Kyiv City Ballet took one of the last flights out of the country on Feb. 23. The company traveled to Paris to begin a long-planned European tour. It has not returned home since.
Irina Khmelko, a UC Foundation professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Service and a native of Ukraine, said the performances of the Kyiv City Ballet and Chattanooga Ballet can speak to people in a unique way.
“I think that art is the only language on the planet Earth that everybody understands,” she said. “Ballet is pure perfection and one of the few ways that we all can experience perfection. I saw how much people in Ukraine enjoyed this form of art. I have also seen that Chattanoogans enjoy it as much.
“Ballet allows us to feel humans, especially in times of turmoil, cruelty and violence. Ballet brings feelings to us that only we humans can have and, in this way, can somewhat balance, even for a minute, the horrific things happening on this planet and show us how beautiful humanity can be when it puts time and effort into arts and culture, as opposed to violence. Perhaps, beauty can indeed save the world.”
While not a comparison that jumps immediately to mind, the career of a ballet dancer is similar to that of a professional athlete, McSween said.
“They have a limited shelf life,” he said. “Anytime where you are not dancing or anytime where 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.”
That’s why bringing the Kyiv City Ballet to the UTC is so important. Forced to live outside their home, the dancers are losing precious time in their careers.
“They’re only in this company because they’ve been training since a young age, so there’s a lot invested in having the opportunities to dance,” McSween said. “Clearly, they can’t do that back at home.
“A tour like this allows them to continue to flex their artistic muscle. It allows them to continue to do the thing that they’ve been training to do and not feel like that is another thing being sacrificed, along with everything that they’ve lost.”
The Ukrainian ballet company arrived in the United States on Sept. 14, said Artistic Director Ivan Kozlov. He said the first two performances—in Wilmington, Delaware, and Charlotte, North Carolina—have been warmly received.
“Wonderful response. Everybody applauds by standing. Our performances are a great success,” he said while walking to rehearsals for the next performance in Suffolk, Virginia.
On his first trip to America, he called it “a great country.”
“But we don’t see much of it because we are working all the time. We have no day off. Our schedule’s so busy even right now.”
- On Oct. 5, the Kyiv City Ballet’s performances will include a full-length performance of Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” (choreography by Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov and Kozlov.
- On Oct. 6-7, the performance also will include a contemporary ballet called “Thoughts” (choreography by Vladyslav Dobshynskyi) and “Men of Kyiv,” a Ukrainian folk dance (choreography by Pavlo Virsky).
- Chattanooga Ballet will perform “3 Muses for Apollo” on Oct. 6 (choreography by McSween). The Oct. 7 performance will include a pair of world premieres, “Some Day, Some Time” (choreography by McSween) and “Élégiaque” (choreography by Nashville Artistic Director Mollie Sansone).
- Kyiv City Ballet will conclude its Oct. 7 show with “Tribute to Peace,” a neo-classical work specifically commissioned for this tour (choreography by Ekaterina and Ivan Kozlov).
“You could come every single evening of those three days and see something entirely different than the night before,” McSween said.
On each night, other performers, organizations and artwork will be featured in the Fine Arts Center lobby, which should begin around 6:30 p.m.
- A vocal ensemble from the Ukrainian Gospel Church will perform various Ukrainian folk songs each evening. The director of the ensemble is UTC music graduate Liliya Garasimchuk.
- Ukrainian brothers Sergiu and Stanislav Vadrus will be performing as a vocal group.
- Bridge Refugee Services will have a representative discussing the organization’s work with refugees in Chattanooga and how individuals can get involved, whether it be donations, time or sponsorship of refugee families.
- The Ukrainian Gospel Church will have representatives talking about its food drive, which sends regular food supplies to Ukraine. Donations to support the food drive are welcome.
- Eight paintings will be on display by Ukrainian artists Denys and Victoria Sarazhin. They arrived here before the Ukrainian war broke out and have not been able to return.