Tuesday, October 3

‘We are the lucky ones’: Ukrainian ballet dancers on unexpected exile in Paris | Ukraine

Ivan and Ekaterina Koslov are used to being away from home on tour with the Kyiv City Ballet company. What they are not used to is being stranded in a foreign country unable to return.

The couple arrived in Paris on 23 February, with 38 young dancers for a short tour of a children’s version of The Nutcracker. Just hours later Russia invaded Ukraine and all flights to and from Kyiv Airport were immediately halted.

“We woke up on the morning of the invasion to dozens and dozens of messages on our phones saying Ukraine was being invaded,” said Ekaterina, 30, said.

Sitting in a Paris cafe she raised her hand higher and higher. “What’s the word for something that is much, much bigger than a shock,” she asked.

“A bad surprise?” suggested her husband Ivan, 39, who founded the Ukrainian capital’s ballet corps, which he now directs, in 2012. He shook his head. “We never thought anything like this will happen. For many of the dancers I don’t think it has sunk in. They are in shock, they are worried about their families. We are seeing things on the television but still it doesn’t seem real.”

If everything had gone according to plan, the ballet troupe would have been back in Kyiv on Monday, rehearsing for new performances of Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet under the direction of Koslov, an internationally known dancer who has performed at the Bolshoi. Now they have no idea when they see their homes and families again.

They are also worried about the other 30 dancers in the company who are currently in the Ukrainian capital, which is under attack by Russian forces.

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“Please don’t say we are ‘stuck’ in Paris, because these words should not be put together and besides we are so much more fortunate than the others,” said Koslova, who is deputy director of the ballet. “Everyone in France has been wonderful. We are being well taken care of so we are the lucky ones.”

The dancers are currently being put up at a hotel and had been “overwhelmed” by offers of accommodation, pointe shoes and leotards, she said. Paris City Hall has given the company a residence at the Théatre du Châtelet on the right bank of the River Seine, to rehearse – and perform when possible – but the theater has its own full programme.

Last week, after news that the Kyiv City Ballet was unexpectedly in exile, the company performed and led a dance class alongside colleagues from the Paris Opera at the Châtelet to raise money for the Red Cross. They received a standing ovation after singing the Ukrainian anthem while the national blue and yellow flag was projected on to the stage.

“We’re really grateful to the Châtelet theater but we don’t want to be a nuisance because it has its own events to put on,” Koslova said.

“Because it was a short tour we thought we would take some of the younger dancers so they could gain some experience. Also our main dancers were due to come out the day the airport was closed so we had to perform without them. We’d like to keep performing but at the moment we can only do the Nutcracker because that is all we have costumes for.”

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Koslov added: “We don’t want to complain and we don’t want to ask for anything. There is a war on, people are dying so it seems crazy to be asking about whether we can get other costumes sent over when we are already in a better position than the others. But dancers are like violins, they need to rehearse and perform to be kept in tune.”

“Our families are happy because we are safe. Part of me wants to go back and help my country but at the same time I feel I can perhaps be more use staying here,” Ivan said.

The Kyiv company had final performances in the western French cities of Nantes and Tours last weekend and the Châtelet has organized for them to take the Nutcracker to Toulouse and Vannes later this month. The couple said the company just wanted to perform.

“It’s not easy for us to organize but we would be more than honored to dance anywhere in the world,” Koslova said. “Except Russia of course.”


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