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A Russian Ballet Star, Opposed to the Ukraine War, Quits the Bolshoi

Olga Smirnova, who has for over a decade been a star of the Bolshoi, the Russian company whose name is synonymous with ballet, has left. In a …

A Russian Ballet Star, Opposed to the Ukraine War, Quits the Bolshoi
16.03.2022 21:25
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Olga Smirnova, who has for over a decade been a star of the Bolshoi, the Russian company whose name is synonymous with ballet, has left.

In a move likely to shake up the ballet world, Ms. Smirnova, 30, on Wednesday announced that she had joined the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam, becoming one of the most significant Russian cultural figures to leave the country because of its invasion of Ukraine.

Ms. Smirnova, who since 2016 has been a principal soloist at the Bolshoi, said in a news release that she had been thinking about leaving for some time. “It’s just that the current circumstances accelerated this process.”

The ballerina has been vocal in her opposition to the war, a position that made it untenable for her to keep working in the country, the release said. Earlier this month, Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, passed a law making it illegal to spread “false information” about the war, punishable with up to 15 years in prison.

Ms. Smirnova published a lengthy post this month to Telegram, the messaging app popular in Russia, in which she said she opposed the war “with all the fibers of my soul.” One of her grandfathers was Ukrainian, she said, but insisted that was not the sole reason for her opposition. “I never thought I would be ashamed of Russia,” she said, adding, “We may not be at the epicenter of the military conflict, but we cannot remain indifferent to this global catastrophe.”

A spokeswoman for the Bolshoi, which still lists Ms. Smirnova among its dancers on its website, said it had no comment on her departure, except to confirm that it was a personal decision.

Ms. Smirnova is one of a number of dancers who have left, at least temporarily, the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky Ballet, Russia’s other major company, since the invasion of Ukraine began. But most of those other dancers, including the Italian Jacopo Tissi, the Brazilian David Motta Soares and the British dancer Xander Parish, have not been Russian.

In an interview from Tallinn, Estonia, last week, Mr. Parish, who dances for the Mariinsky, told The Sunday Times, a British newspaper, that he intended to focus on international guest appearances for the next few months. “It’s hard to imagine not being able to go back, but I just need to keep positive and look for opportunities,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Dutch National Ballet said that Victor Caixeta, a Brazilian soloist at the Mariinsky Ballet, had also joined the company. “The current circumstances have meant I’ve had to make the hard decision of leaving Russia — the place I’ve called home for almost five years,” Mr. Caixeta said in a statement.

There have been other upheavals at the Bolshoi because of the war. Alexei Ratmansky, the Bolshoi’s former artistic director and now artist in residence at American Ballet Theater, was preparing a new ballet for the company in Moscow when the invasion began and he immediately left. The project is officially on hold, but Mr. Ratmansky told The New York Times that he doubted he would return to Russia to work “if Putin is still president.”

How the Ukraine War Is Affecting the Cultural World


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Paavo Järvi. The Estonian American conductor was in Moscow, leading rehearsals for an engagement with a Russian youth orchestra, when Russia began its attack on Ukraine. When he decided to stay there not to disappoint the players, many criticized his choice.

Anna Netrebko. The superstar Russian soprano will no longer appear at the Metropolitan Opera this season or the next after failing to comply with the company’s demand that she distance herself from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine.

Vladimir Potanin. The Guggenheim Museum said that the Russian businessman and close associate of Mr. Putin would step down as one of its trustees, a position he took on in 2002. While no reason was given for the decision, the museum’s statement referenced the war in Ukraine.

Valery Gergiev. The star Russian maestro and vocal supporter of Mr. Putin was removed from his post as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic after he refused to denounce Russia’s actions in Ukraine. His abrupt dismissal came three years before his contract was set to expire.

Alexei Ratmansky. The choreographer, who grew up in Kyiv, was preparing a new ballet at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow when the invasion began, and immediately decided to leave Moscow. The ballet, whose premiere was set for March 30, was postponed indefinitely.

Gérard Depardieu. The French actor, who became a Russian citizen in 2013 and is one of the closest Western celebrities to Mr. Putin, took a surprising stance when he denounced the war during an interview.

Ms. Smirnova has been a star at the Bolshoi almost since she joined the company in 2011, making her departure all the more notable. In an article in 2013 in The New York Times, Ms. Smirnova was described as “a rarity, a ballerina whose every movement feels luminously right and true.”

Global ballet audiences will be able to see her again soon. The Dutch National Ballet said Ms. Smirnova would make her debut in April, performing the title role in Marius Petipa’s romantic “Raymonda,” a classic of Russian ballet.

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