THE stage has become something of a place of exile for the dancers of the Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine.
While performing to huge audiences in elegant theatres across Europe, founder of the Grand Kyiv Ballet Oleksandr Stoianov’s young family was desperately fleeing Ukraine.
It took three days for them to reach the border of Poland and Oleksandr and his wife were reunited with their son and daughter in the US where they now live in their adopted temporary home of Seattle.
Oleksandr and his wife Kateryna Kukhar perform together as the principal dancers in the Grand Kyiv Ballet, which will perform at the Ipswich Civic Centre on May 14.
Many of their friends and family remain in Ukraine as their company has been touring the world since the outbreak of war last year.
The acclaimed dancers have turned to staging something of a peaceful protest as they perform to audiences across the globe and raise funds for Ukrainian refugees and medical care through the Red Cross and showcase the country’s culture.
“We have two missions,” Oleksandr said.
“First, it is to help our country to win this war and then our second mission is a cultural mission. We want people to know more about our culture.”
Formed in 2014 the Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine has performed on stages throughout Europe, United States, China, and South America.
Oleksandr formed the company as part of the plan for his future but the plan abruptly changed as war broke out.
Renowned for his high jumps and energy, he had risen to become the premier dancer of the National Opera of Ukraine and was named People’s Artist of Ukraine in 2019.
“As an artist our career is too short. We can work and dance on the stage just 20 years, and after this many of our dancers they can’t do anything,” he said.
“This was to be my life after the stage. I didn’t want to stop at 40 years.
“Now we have another mission. When the war started, we started dancing for Ukrainians.
“We work with the Red Cross and we support medical care in our country.”
The Forest Song is the first act of the production which takes audiences through mythological images from Ukrainian fairy tales.
“This is original Ukrainian ballet with Ukrainian costumes, Ukrainian history and a mix of ballet and Ukrainian folk dance.
“Through this I hope the world knows more about our country.
“This is about freedom. This is why all the world is helping Ukraine because it is not just a Ukrainian war. It is really about freedom and democracy.”
The company is performing the final dates of their tour of New Zealand before they head to Queensland for the first leg of their tour of Australia.
Performing on stages on the other side of the world as war rages in their country is however a surreal experience for the all-Ukrainian company.
“My wife and my son and daughter are now in the USA with our friend but my wife’s parents are still in Ukraine. They say this is our home and we don’t want to leave our country. Many of my friends now are on the front line. They are not soldiers. They fight for their country, just normal people.
“I try not to watch the news a lot because it is really hard. The first two or three months my wife cried every day. No news, bad news, bad news, many people have died. We call our family and friends every day to find out how they are, to ask about our country, what they need, what we can do, and we pray that soon Ukrainians will win and return our lands back.”
Back on stage the company’s emotional performances are receiving accolades.
“All people are very emotional. After the performance the audience gives that emotion back to the artists,” Stoianov said.
“Our dancers are putting in 100 percent with heart and spirit. It is a very emotional moment when after the performance we have the Ukrainian flag. It is a very emotional moment for us. Dancers still cry on the stage and people get caught in that moment.”
· The Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine perform the Ukrainian Forest Song and Don Quixote at the Ipswich Civic Centre on May 14.