The Kyiv City Ballet was starting a world tour and were stranded in Paris when the Russian invasion began in February. They have not been able to return home. Their artistry and perfection of the craft of ballet carry the banner of Ukrainian culture and arts for the world to see. Their performance here was a point of connection and pride for the many Ukrainian citizens living here in the Chicago area. I was spellbound for 2.5 hours watching and feeling thrilled for the dancers defiantly carrying on traditions and bringing some new dances to Chicago and the world.
The opening dance was titled “Thoughts,” choreographed by and featuring Vladyslav Dobshynskyi. The program notes ask, “What does human thought mean to you?” Dobshynskyi appears mid-stage under the spotlight as the dance begins. He looks as if he was carved from marble, shirtless and dressed in black pants. His movements are enhanced by spare and haunting music including one of my favorite composers, Lisa Gerrard from Dead Can Dance, along with Patrick Cassidy, Max Richter, Nils Frahm, and Burkhard Dallwitz. The company joins Dobshynskyi dressed in uniform khaki with movements flowing and yet machine-like. Kateryna Chebykina appears as a vision in white, distracting him from his thoughts and beginning a pursuit that is blocked by the flowing machine. The artists of this company are in perfect form down to how the hands are held and feet are positioned.
Th second dance was “Tribute to Peace,” choreographed by Kyiv City Ballet founder Ivan Kozlov and associate director Ekaterina Kozlova to the music of Edward Elgar. This dance was made up of vignettes in the lives of everyday people in pursuit of love, connection, friendship, and peace. The backdrops were beautiful paintings in the impressionist style of vibrant colors of flowers and city scenes. There was none of the solemnity that might be expected of anything dedicated to peace—especially in the world today. This dance was about enjoying the foibles and quirks of our fellow humans. Two men fishing, two flirty women in search of boyfriends, two men in love, a pompous aristocrat and his servant, and in the end, everyone finding love. It felt all the more poignant because that everyday life that most of us take for granted is under attack for Ukraine.
The third dance, “Classical Suite,” was traditional ballet choreographed by Kozlov (after Marius Petipa), featuring music by Ludwig Minkus. The suite features three pas de deux from famous ballets scored by Minkus: Paquita, La Bayadere, and Don Quixote. These vignettes all feature wedding dances from those classic ballets. This was a look into the classical training of the artists of the Kyiv Ballet. It was tulle, tutus, and the perfect physical form of ballet done en pointe. The training, dedication, and physical endurance of a dancer leaves me in awe. The beauty and potential of the human body as a means of communication is but one of the reasons that I have always admired ballet dancers.
A surprise fourth dance was added in a direct tribute to Kyiv and Ukraine. The backdrop was a picture of the golden domes of St. Michael’s Cathedral and the crowd applauded in appreciation. The male dancers appeared on the stage wearing the blue and yellow colors of the Ukraine flag. What followed was the very athletic and joyful folk dancing of Ukraine. Leaping, squatting kicks, and clapping brought the audience to its feet. The entire company was on stage to take in the love and appreciation from the audience.
It is my sincere hope that the Kyiv City Ballet will be able to return home and take part in rebuilding their homeland. I am reminded of the many defections from Russia for over four decades during the mid-20th century. Nureyev, Godunov, and Baryshnikov left for the artistic freedom that they could not have in Russia as part of the Bolshoi Ballet. They were trotted out as symbols of perceived superiority. Like these artists before them, the Kyiv City Ballet remains unbowed even in forced exile; they are ambassadors for Ukraine and artistic freedom of expression. It is something to bear in mind as our freedom is threatened with the banning of books and agency over our own bodies and health being revoked. Freedom is never free.
The Kyiv City Ballet played September 24-25 at the Auditorium Theatre. The company will continue its American tour including Detroit, New York, and other cities. For more information, visit kcbtheater.com and consider donating to White Stork Aid for Ukraine.
Did you enjoy this post and our coverage of Chicago’s arts scene? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation by PayPal. Choose the amount that works best for you, and k cnow how much we appreciate your support!