KYIV City Ballet will give their first British performance since Ukraine came under bombardment from Russia at a sold-out York Theatre Royal tonight (14/6/2022).
Visas rubber-stamped, a combination of Eurostar and LNER delivered the Ukrainian dancers from their temporary base in Paris, with Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird on board the evening train from London.
Led by general director Ivan Koslov and his wife, assistant director Ekaterina Koslova, the exiled troupe made their way immediately to a Civic welcome at York Mansion House before taking a City Cruise on the Ouse.
“It’s a huge honour to be hosting Kyiv City Ballet at York Theatre Royal,” says Bird. “This is the company’s first UK appearance since their city came under attack, and we are proud that York is able to stand in solidarity with Kyiv by supporting these extraordinary dancers for this one-off visit.”
Bird personally invited Kyiv City Ballet to perform in York after learning of the company being stranded in France, where they had flown to Paris to perform on February 23, only to learn that their country had been invaded by Putin’s forces.
The dancers still went ahead with that night’s performance, and whereas mobile phones usually would be prohibited in the environs of the stage during a show, they were left on in the dressing rooms by the troupe, as relatives rang from home as the performance progressed.
At the invitation of the Mayor’s office, the dancers have been based in Paris ever since that night, one “lost in a fog” before the full enormity of what was unfolding was apparent.
“It’s been very hard to be away from home, but people around here in Paris are helping us a lot,” says Ivan, speaking by Zoom from the French capital.
“We’re staying in hotel accommodation, everyone under one roof. Our group right now is 38, with the dancers, ourselves and a costume mistress.”
Ivan says “right now” because the number has decreased since that day of arrival in France, after some men in the troupe decided to head home to serve the Ukrainian cause.
The rest have remained in France, where they have been raising awareness and relief funds through performing in Paris and other cities too. “The Mayor of Paris has generously given us a residency at the Theatre de Chatelet since March 6, right in the heart of the city,” says Ekaterina, or Katya, as she introduces herself.
“It means we have a place to continue to rehearse and choreograph works, and it keeps our spirits up as it’s good that we can be together.”
Ivan adds: “We’re able to go to classes at their theatres as well as having the possibility of doing our own classes. As a ‘cultural exchange’, it’s a very good experience for our dancers; they can see how Parisian dancers train. They’ve invited us to their studios and some choreographers have proposed to choreograph works with us, but it’s too early to be able to do that.”
During their French exile, Kyic City Ballet have performed “almost everywhere”, latterly in Toulouse, Lyon and Saint Marlo.
“In regular times, we’ve always been welcomed by the public very nicely, but now it’s an even better, warmer welcome, with so much applause and everyone staying and continuing to cheer at the end, helping to keep spirits up,” says Ivan. “Sometimes we’ll see Ukrainian flags too.
“It can be difficult to focus on working, but we’re dancers, not fighters; we’re helping in the one way we can.”
Now comes the chance to perform in York. “We received a message inviting us to York Theatre Royal, and very quickly we arranged a phone call and were very excited to confirm the show,” says Katya. “Our performance in York is one of the only things we’ve all been talking about.”
Ivan cannot recall if he has ever been to York previously. “You know the dancer’s life: you leave the hotel, rehearse, do the show, come back to the hotel, move on,” he says.
Katya is more definite. “I haven’t been to England, though I’ve wanted to come for as long as I can remember,” she says.
“We’re in discussion to do more shows here, but it’s already been a real logistical challenge to do so much in such a short time. We don’t have dates to announce yet but we have plans to return to the UK and we hope York will be the first of many performances.”
Given that the Russian invasion shows no sign of abating, Katya cannot turn her thoughts to the day when she might return home. “I’m rehearsing every day with our dancers, focusing on that, and, for me, the most important thing is what we can bring through our dancing,” she says.
Thoughts turn to tonight, when 100 per cent of ticket sale proceeds will be donated to UNICEF’s Ukraine Appeal from a two-and-a-half-hour special performance split into two parts.
“The first part will be a ballet class, which will be showing the audience how we normally prepare for a performance,” says Katya. “Ivan and I will be on stage with the dancers, showing how we warm up, why we do certain movements, and we’ll do questions and answers too.
“The second part will be made up of excerpts from our repertoire, both from classical ballets, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, and from pieces that we’ll be performing next season.”
Look out for a premiere tonight: “One of the pieces is being choreographed by one of our dancers, Vladyslav Dobshyinskyi, who will perform a solo from his new work,” says Katya.
Kyiv City Ballet can but pray for the day when they set dancing feet on Kyiv soil once more. In the meantime, here in York, will be another chance to raise money for those in need back home.
The Yorkshire ballet community is playing its part too: Leeds company Northern Ballet are providing the dance floor for tomorrow’s performance, York Dance Space, the ballet bars.
Come Wednesday morning, the Kyiv City Ballet troupe will be heading to Manchester Airport to fly to the southwestern French Basque coast to perform in Biarritz that night.
Kyiv City Ballet at York Theatre Royal, tonight (14/6/2022), 7.30pm. SOLD OUT