Flashback Friday: The United Ukrainian Ballet’s Performance at the Kennedy Center

February 9, 2023
Silhouette of a ballerina

We will not give up. We will not surrender. We will fight bravely on the battlefield. But we will also celebrate our culture.

Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova said at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., where The United Ukrainian Ballet Company recently finished a run of performances.

Ambassador Markarova explained that the country has had to make "very difficult decisions" about whether to continue artistic events amidst the ongoing war, however, she said if they did not continue, that would be precisely what Russia "wanted us to do."

Why It Matters: The United Ukrainian Ballet Company is made up of about 60 Ukrainian dancers who have fled Ukraine amidst the ongoing war. The company is based in The Netherlands, and gives the dancers an opportunity to continue their career despite the war in Ukraine. Before their production of an interpretation of "Giselle" in D.C., dancer Vladyslava Ihnatenko said of the performances' importance, "We can show and tell people our story and also [let] more people know about the situation [in Ukraine]."

  • The ballet company is supported by The United Ukrainian Ballet Foundation, which was created to support Ukrainian culture during the war. The foundation shares, "By giving space to an important part of Ukrainian culture – dance and ballet – the foundation aims to guard and protect the country’s identity."
  • When the company first formed in March of 2022, it included only a few women, some of whom brought their children along with them (the dancers live in a former music conservatory where the ballet company is also based). While men of fighting age are not permitted to leave Ukraine due to the war, the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture later gave permission for men to join the ballet. Dancer Oleksii Kniazkov, one of the men in the company, said, "I am not a soldier, a warrior. I don't know anything about these things, but I can dance, and I hope it will be more useful support for Ukraine."
  • Another dancer in the ballet, Ksenia Novikova said, “We must remind everyone around the world that we are a peaceful nation, that we have our culture and we deserve a right to exist."

The United Ukrainian Ballet

60 dancers who fled the war now take the state – as The United Ukrainian Ballet (NPR)

Ballet dancers from across Ukraine bring 'Giselle' to the Kennedy Center (NPR)

An Ad Hoc Ukrainian Ballet Troupe Settles Into Life in The Hague (The New York Times)

Read about the ballet company's choreographer here: A Leading Choreographer Joins the War Effort, With Classical Ballet (The New York Times)

In Ukraine: Russia hits targets across Ukraine with missiles, drones (The Associated Press)

by Jenna Lee,