The United Ukrainian Ballet — dancers who fled the war now take the stage The company, based in The Hague, is currently in Washington, D.C., performing Giselle at The Kennedy Center. The Ukrainian Ambassador says the ballet corps is like a secret weapon.

60 dancers who fled the war now take the stage — as The United Ukrainian Ballet

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Last night, some 60 dancers from across Ukraine performed the ballet "Giselle" at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.


SHAPIRO: After Russia invaded Ukraine, these dancers fled the country and made their way to The Hague. There, they formed a new company, the United Ukrainian Ballet. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has more.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Just hours before the curtain rose, choreographer Alexei Ratmansky coached the dancers through a dress rehearsal.

ALEXEI RATMANSKY: You're late, guys. You're late. You're late.

BLAIR: In the dance world, Ratmansky is a big deal. He's a MacArthur Fellow who's worked with just about every major ballet company. When Russia invaded Ukraine, he was in Moscow working with the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky.

RATMANSKY: I received a call from my wife from New York. It was 5 a.m. And she said, the Kyiv is bombed. And that's where my family lives. So I had to leave right away.

BLAIR: Ratmansky's his mother is Russian. His father is Ukrainian. But for him, there's no internal conflict when it comes to the war.

RATMANSKY: It's a huge failure of Russian culture, I think, the fact that millions didn't come out in the first week and didn't stop it.

BLAIR: When a ballet colleague in the Netherlands asked him if he would come to The Hague to work with Ukrainian dancers, he didn't hesitate. His presence was the reason principal dancer Elizaveta Gogidze made her way there, too.

ELIZAVETA GOGIDZE: I dreamed to work with Alexei Ratmansky. He's gorgeous choreographer. He's a true patriot of our country.


BLAIR: When Russia invaded Ukraine, Gogidze was in Kyiv. She and her family fled.

GOGIDZE: I go with my mother, grandmothers and all women of our family to Germany. It was not easy.

BLAIR: Gogidze says she's in constant contact with her fellow dancers back in Kyiv. Her company there has reopened, but it's been a challenge.

GOGIDZE: They have no light. They have no hot water. It's sirens and rockets. Sometimes it's really hard.

BLAIR: It's not lost on the Ukrainian government that the audience for this event includes decision-makers. Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova spoke to Washington establishment types at a Kennedy Center event earlier this week.

OKSANA MARKAROVA: Usually, you hear me asking for more weapons and more financial resources and more sanctions and isolation to Russia, and I will not make an exception today. We still need all of that.

BLAIR: She said the embassy debated whether celebrating art was appropriate during a time of war.

RATMANSKY: And we decided yes, because that's exactly what Russians wanted us to do. They wanted us to be destroyed, cry and die, and we will not do that. We will fight bravely on the battlefield, but we will also celebrate our culture.

BLAIR: At intermission during last night's production of "Giselle," I spoke with Ina, a Russian emigre and member of the audience, who asked that we not use her last name.

INA: I'm not a big, like, ballet fan.

BLAIR: But she was moved that so many people showed up to support Ukraine.

INA: The fact that people choose to come and - the moral support is also very important.

BLAIR: When the performance ended, the orchestra played the Ukrainian national anthem.


BLAIR: The dancers of The United Ukrainian Ballet, joined by Ratmansky, held up banners that said, stand with Ukraine. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington.

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