Ballet greats unite in London for Ukraine benefit gala

Argentinian ballet dancer Marianela Nunez performs during a rehearsal for the "Dance for Ukraine" event, on March 19, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - World famous ballet dancers from Russia and Ukraine, Argentina, Cuba, France and Japan came together on Saturday (March 19) for a gala to raise funds for Ukraine and send a message of peace.

The yellow and blue flag of Ukraine flew outside the London Coliseum for the show, which aimed to raise more than £100,000 (S$180,000) for the UK Disasters Emergency Committee collective of leading charities.

But one of the organisers, Ukrainian dancer and producer Ivan Putrov, told the packed audience before the Dance For Ukraine event started that £140,000 had already been donated.

"Please don't stop your support," he told them.

Ukraine's ambassador to the United Kingdom, Mr Vadym Prystaiko, was given a standing ovation, while Putrov's fellow organiser, Romanian ballerina Alina Cojacaru, said the show was "about democracy, standing for freedom and human values".

Both Putrov and Cojacaru trained in Kyiv and decided to mobilise the world of ballet for what they said was a "humanitarian appeal" in the face of Russia's invasion.

The team of world-leading dancers performing included Russia's Natalia Osipova, Argentina's Marianela Nunez and Japan's Fumi Kaneko, all from the Royal Ballet, and France's Mathieu Ganio from the Paris Opera.

Ukraine's Katja Khaniukova, Spain's Aitor Arrieta and the United States' Emma Hawes of the English National Ballet also took to the stage.

Putrov, who was a principal dancer with London's Royal Ballet from 2002 to 2010, said before the show that they intended to send a message to the West, those in Ukraine but also Russia.

"Some Russians will hear us and will raise their voice... because what's happening is outrageous," he told AFP.

"We as artists have talent and we need to use this talent to say what we believe in. Art has a voice and is the voice that we use.

"Is art appropriate in such a horrible circumstance? Of course it is, because it gives hope, it gives inspiration to people."

Loaded with symbolism

The evening opened with the Ukrainian national anthem and closed with The Triumph Of Love from the ballet Raymonda, with music by Russia's Alexander Glazunov.

The 13 symbolism-laden choreographies in between included No Man's Land by Liam Scarlett, Lacrimosa by Gyula Pandi and Ashes by Jason Kittelberger.

Russian composers including Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff also featured.

"Russian culture doesn't have anything to do with (President Vladimir) Putin, and equally Putin has nothing to do with Russian culture," said Putrov.

Ballet dancers Marianela Nunez and Reece Clarke of Britain (back) perform during a rehearsal for the "Dance for Ukraine" event. PHOTO: AFP

Osipova, one of the most famous Russian dancers outside her country, declined to be interviewed.

But her presence "signifies that Russia doesn't equal aggression", said Putrov.

Cuba's Javier Torres of the Northern Ballet performed "The Death of a Swan" by Camille Saint-Saens.

The piece is about a paraplegic who loses one of his limbs and "represents fighting for what you have lost", Torres told AFP.

Ballet dancers Miki Mizutani of Japan and Mathias Dingman of the US perform during a rehearsal for the "Dance for Ukraine" event. PHOTO: AFP

"It talks about fighting to the end and that's how I wanted to interpret it," he said, thinking of "people who try to resist what happens to them", like the Ukrainians mired in war or the Cubans who have suffered under decades of US sanctions and embargoes, and "even by the Russians" in Soviet times.

"I have that pain, I have that anguish that every Cuban who lives outside of Cuba has, because we know the needs that are experienced there," he said.

He said he has not previously mixed art with politics, but Saturday's gala was "a humanitarian duty as a dancer, as a human rights defender, first as a person and then as an artist".

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