Explained: Who is Olga Smirnova, Russian ballerina who left the Bolshoi Ballet because of the war in Ukraine?

Olga Smirnova, the principal ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet, one of the world’s leading classical ballet companies in Moscow, has resigned in protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “I am against war with every fiber of my soul,” the dancer said in a post on Telegram. She defected to the Netherlands, where she will perform with the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam.

Earlier this month, David Motta Soares of Brazil and Jacopo Tissi of Italy, who were among the Bolshoi Ballet’s top solo dancers, also quit as war in Ukraine raged.

Who is Olga Smirnova?

Olga Smirnova captured the imagination when she performed on stage. In 2013, when Smirnova was 21, The Guardian reviewed her performance calling her “society’s newest and brightest star… awesome.” “Tall and amber-eyed, with a regal head, expressive arms and long back legs, she is the physically perfect instrument of her art form. Add to that a restraint and purity of line that makes all that super dancing that so many ballerinas have fallen prey to in recent years—all those overflowing arabesque throws and leans, all those music-blurring hyperextensions—seems overdone and outdated. “says the newspaper. Since then his oeuvre has included complex productions like Anna Karenina, Swan Lake, The Taming of the Shrew and Giselle. In 2016, she was named Principal Dancer of the Bolshoi Ballet.

Smirnova is a graduate of the Vaganova Academy, where she was trained by Ludmila Kovaleva, a master and the driving force behind some of the best ballet performers around the world.

In an interview with Vaganova Today, Smirnova said she was “proud to be a prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theatre”. “It’s a very special feeling to dance on her world famous stage. I think it’s great that the theater can afford to put on large-scale classical productions, involving a lot of soloists and corps dancers, and that we are so conscientious about preserving our classical heritage. While maintaining my classical repertoire, I also have the opportunity to participate in new creations and modern works, and to work directly with the greatest choreographers of our time,” she said.

She also said that she is “a responsible person who likes to plan ahead and set clear goals. Over time, I have also learned to enjoy the moment, to cherish what I have today. today and the memories it will bring me later”. .

Now, events seem to have forced his hand.

The dancer, who has a Ukrainian grandfather and grew up in St Petersburg before moving to Moscow to perform, calls herself half Ukrainian. “In a modern, enlightened world, I expect civilized societies to resolve political issues only through peaceful negotiations. I never thought I would be ashamed of Russia, I have always been proud of the talent of Russians, our cultural and sporting achievements. But now I feel like a line has been drawn that separates the before and the after. It hurts that people die, that people lose their homes or have to abandon their homes. And who would have thought a few weeks ago that all of this would happen? We may not be at the epicenter of the military conflict, but we cannot remain indifferent to this global catastrophe,” she said.

What’s next for Smirnova

The Dutch National Ballet said it welcomed Smirnova with “open arms”. She will appear with them as the heroine of Raymonda, a grand ballet in three acts by Marius Pepita, in Amsterdam on April 3.

Other artists who quit

Since the beginning of the war, Russian artists, in all genres, have expressed their opposition despite it being considered an act of treason which could lead to heavy penalties, including years of imprisonment, in their country.

A star late night chat show host, Ivan Urgant, has been taken off the air after posting on Instagram with the caption “Fear and pain. No to war”.

Some cultural organizations have taken steps to silence their members, such as the Mayakovsky Theater in Moscow which reportedly issued a gag order to its artists – they are not allowed to comment on the invasion.

Yet artists like Elena Kovalskaya, director of another state-funded Moscow theater, Meyerhold Center, have made their voices heard. “It’s impossible to work for a murderer and get your salary from him,” she said. In recent weeks, 79-year-old Russian conductor Thomas Sanderling, who was head of the Novosibirsk Philharmonic Orchestra, also decided to resign, adding that he was also opposed to a total ban on all forms of Russian art and artistic activity.

For Tugan Sokhiev, the music director and principal conductor of the Bolshoi Theatre, however, the war and the call for him to record a protest amounted to great pressure. He resigned from his post at the Bolshoi Theater and the Orchester National du Capitole de Toulouse in France. “People were waiting for me to speak up and hear my position on what’s going on right now,” he said in a statement, adding that he was forced to choose between “my Russian musicians -beloved and beloved French”. Although he declared that he would never support any form of violence, Sokhiev refrained from denouncing the war.

Meanwhile, the New York Metropolitan Opera has fired Anna Netrebko, a star soprano, as it cuts ties with performers and arts organizations in Russia “until the invasion and killings have been arrested, order restored and restitution made. ”.

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Colleen D. Ervin