Foreign ballet dancers leave Russia because of the war with Ukraine | Partner Content: Arts, Films and TV

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — Ballet dancers Adrian Blake Mitchell and Andrea Lassakova moved to Russia years ago to pursue their dream of performing with the best in a country where the people live and breathe ballet.

But days after Russia invaded Ukraine, the couple uprooted their lives and left behind their precious work with the prestigious Mikhailovsky Ballet Company in St. Petersburg.

Mitchell, who is American, and Lassakova, who is from Slovakia, are among dozens of foreign dancers who have left Russia since the war began in February. The two are now in the United States, preparing for a performance in Southern California.

They say the war will bring Russian ballet back to Soviet-era isolation.

“Most of our friends are international. They are gone and I don’t think they will be back soon,” Lassakova said.

Amy Brandt, editor of Pointe, an American online ballet magazine, said there were probably fewer than 100 foreign dancers working in Russia when the war started. But based on social media posts and job advertisements by dance companies outside of Russia, most have left, she said.

Russia opened its world of ballet to the West in the decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 2011, American ballet dancer David Hallberg became the first foreigner to be named principal dancer of the legendary Bolshoi Ballet.

But in recent weeks, Russian ballet companies have faced backlash over the war. The Bolshoi Ballet and Mariinsky Ballet companies, Russia’s most renowned ballet institutions, have performed annually in the United States as part of their international tour, but already performances scheduled for this year have been canceled.

“It feels like stepping back in time in a lot of ways,” Brandt said.

Mitchell and Lassakova lived in Russia for seven years but decided to leave the country in early March after Russian troops invaded Ukraine and rumors of martial law, financial collapse and loss of freedoms loomed. They hired a taxi and rushed off with their dog to Estonia.

While in Russia, the pair did not get involved in politics, although they saw many pro-democracy protesters marching past their apartment. But once across the border, and now in the United States, the dance partners voiced their opposition to the war.

“We had a difficult situation. But what is happening to the Ukrainian people is simply the most tragic and terrible thing I can imagine,” Mitchell said during an interview at Westside Ballet studios in Santa Monica, California, where he was once a student and where the couple will perform next month. to raise funds for the school.

Mitchell thinks the dancers, both Russians and the few remaining foreigners, may oppose the war but fear the consequences of protesting.

“You hear very few Russian dancers express themselves, but a lot of them want to leave because they want to be able to express themselves,” he said.

Russian ballerina Olga Smirnova left the Bolshoi Ballet last month to protest the Russian invasion. She now dances with the Dutch National Ballet.

Since arriving in the United States, Mitchell and Lassakova have traveled across the country, performing for charity and giving talks in support of Ukraine.

They are currently rehearsing at the Westside Ballet in Santa Monica for a performance of “Barber’s Adagio” by Russian choreographer Oleg Vinogradov.

It’s a ballet that Mitchell and Lassakova performed in St. Petersburg. Now they fear they will never dance in Russia again.

“Russian ballet is definitely going to be totally isolated,” Mitchell said. “Isolated from the West.”

Associated Press writer Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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