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When Russia invaded Ukraine just under two years ago, Olga Golytsia did not want to dance.
Dancing has been a major part of her life ever since her mother took her to her first class at the age of five. She is now one of the principal dancers at the National Ballet of Ukraine, which is currently on a 10-city tour of Canada and arrives at Calgary’s Jack Singer Concert Hall on Feb. 11.
But it didn’t take long for her to change her mind.
“I thought it was not important at this moment,” says Golytsia, in a Zoom interview with Postmedia. However, “after one month, two months, people needed balance. For a few minutes in the show, people would not think about war. Now I dance with a special emotion. Every time it is something special for me, because of the bombing maybe we won’t have tomorrow. So that’s why we need to do it in the moment. We all try to be happy in that moment.”
For the National Ballet of Ukraine, the shows went ahead, albeit with less frequency than before Vladimir Putin’s February 2022 invasion. Performances and rehearsals were often interrupted by war, but the dancers felt it was important to keep going.
“At the beginning of the war, theatres (were closed) because the Russian troops were very close to Kyiv,” says Mykyta Sukhorukov, another principal dancer joining Golytsia on the Canadian tour. “But after they went away, there was the decision that the audiences in Kyiv wanted to have a part of normal life. Because, for two hours, they can forget about the problems during this troubled time. The dancers, too, wanted to represent their culture and they understand that this is a part of our culture. Ballet is part of the culture that we want to save.”
Nadiya Ukraine – the word Nadiya means “hope” in Ukrainian – will feature excerpts from classic ballets such as Le Corsaire and Don Quixote but also features traditional Ukrainian dance.
“Any kind of classical ballet, it started from folk dances in every country,” Sukhorukov says. “For this tour, we are doing classical and folk dance. There is a very close relationship. We have folk dances with pointe shoes.”
For the dancers, touring is nothing new of course. The renowned company has travelled the world. But Sukhorukov admits it is a difficult time to be away from home. Still, he said it’s important for the company to keep Ukraine and the war in the minds of people who support the country, including Canada.
“It’s more urgent to represent the Ukraine in this difficult time,” he says. “We hope to speak to the diaspora and the Ukrainian community in Canada because we know it is big, to represent Ukrainian culture and to talk to people because usually what is going on in the news and what is going on really is very different. Right now, because it’s been almost two years, people are very tired about the Ukraine conflict. We want them to not forget that the war is still going on.”
The tour began in Quebec City in January, with what Golytsia has described as celebrating the “power of art and beauty over tyranny and destruction.”
“The war is horrible,” she says. “A lot of young women, men die every day. It’s very important to help the Ukraine now.”
“One part of our performance is to say thank you to the many, many people in different countries who are supporting the Ukraine right now,” Sukhorukov says.
“In my opinion, art (is) healing,” he adds. “This is the most important part of our work right now. Many people ask us why we are still working. Is it necessary in this moment? I think it’s more necessary than in peacetime because audiences truly want to have true, clean feelings and the classical ballet is one of the purest types of culture. To see these pure and nice stories on stage I think it helps people in this hard and traumatic time.”
Nadiya Ukraine by the National Ballet of Ukraine will be performed on Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Jack Singer Concert Hall.