Signed in as:
Signed in as:
By Daniel Jackovino Staff Writer
In “The Nutcracker,” she was a snowflake. In “Sleep- ing Beauty,” she was a fairy. Both roles, among others portrayed by English-speaking ballerina Olena Pedan, were performed in a recently concluded North American tour by the State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine. The 55-mem- ber troupe’s final show, a performance of “Sleeping Beauty,” was presented for one evening at NJPAC on Jan. 15. The next day, the company was scheduled to return home and to their country’s devastating war with Russia. Speaking at the Newark venue about an hour before going onstage, Pedan said she could not believe her country still endures the war or that the 21st century could be like this.
“We woke up Feb. 24 with the sounds of bombs,” she said, citing the first day of Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine, including areas near Kyiv, the capital and where she resides, in 2022. “Here in the United States, we have a safe life and have some fun. It’s always sad for us to think about our families, mothers, fathers, husbands, kids, over there in the Ukraine. They’re not safe.” These thoughts do not leave the performers, she said, and they are difficult to have on your mind when you want to make an audience happy with your best performance. “But inside your soul, you’re so sad,” she said. “Some- times, you feel nothing. It’s very hard. And this war is changing people, changing our minds, changing every- thing. It’s just awful, and we’ll never forgive Russia for this.” Pedan began ballet training at age 10, which was “about 20 years ago,” she said, and trained in Kyiv. In addition to performing, she teaches master classes in ballet. “I always wanted to be an actress when I was very small,” she said. “Pretty much, the ballet dancer is also an actress. We try to speak with our body language, so it’s been my dream always.” She said she likes to be in the public eye.
Ballerina Olena Pedan danced at New Jersey Performing Arts Center on Jan. 15 in the State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine’s production of ‘Sleeping Beauty.’
“When people look at me, I try to send happiness to them,” she said. “It also makes me happy because I can bring a little bit of joy and some positive emotions to the people. It’s important to do something for other people.” The libretto for a ballet is not always a story about a happy occurrence; it can be a sad one, she acknowledged. She gave as an example “Giselle.” In this story, Giselle, a peasant girl, returns from the dead to remove a curse from Albrecht, the nobleman she loves, only to return to her grave.
“She is dying because of love,” Pedan said. “But it shows that love can win in everything. It’s a little bit sad, but everybody at the end understands that love will save our world. There’ll always be sunshine after the dark time.” Discussing her profession, Pedan said there is some- thing inside dancers that makes them persist. “Not everybody can be a dancer,” she said. “Not because of body shape or their legs. I can’t explain this, but if you don’t have these feelings, you’ll never dance and never do this job. It’s very hard to be a ballerina. You push yourself to exercise, stretch and not eat a lot. You train six to seven hours a day. If you don’t have that feeling inside, maybe you’ll do it for a year and that will be enough.”
Being on tour is difficult, too, but Pedan said the com- pany was happy to be in America. It performed in 23 cities in eight states, as well as in Canada. She has danced in other companies and this was her first year with the State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine, which was founded in 2018. Its annual North American tours are hosted by Classical Arts Entertainment, which is located in Brook- lyn. Pedan said the troupe would be returning home after being away for three months. Her parents and a sister live five hours from Kyiv, in Dnipro. Just the night before, she said during this interview, an apartment building in Dnipro was bombed. According to preliminary news accounts, at least 40 people died, many more were injured and dozens were missing, after a Russian missile hit a nine-floor apart- ment building. Russia was insane, Pedan said, and its president, Vladimir Putin, was crazy, killing civilians “because of nothing.” She said her country’s president, Volodymyr Zelen- skyy, “is the best.” “He’s just a hero for us,” Pedan said. “And also his wife, Olena Kiyashko. She’s traveling, talking to people and telling our stories, and trying to show people it can’t be like this.” And now it was time to return.
“Everybody wants to go home,” she said of the dancers. “We want to see our families and hug our husbands and kids. Yes, it’s dangerous; yes, we understand that. There’s no lights, sometimes no heating in apartments, no water, but still we want to be with our families.”
Luminitza Bivol considers dancing with Ethan to be the biggest chance of her life so far. The young woman from Moldova says she was welcomed with open arms.
“I have been working with the State Ballet Theater of Ukraine for the second year, but I have the impression that we were always together,” she said recently via email. “I experienced the greatest and deepest emotions on stage with teachers, choreographers, colleagues and friends; I felt appreciated.”
It’s with those same open arms that she and her family made sure to welcome her European neighbors when Russia started its war with Ukraine earlier this year. Moldova borders Ukraine to the east.
“From the first day of the military aggression, the Moldovans stood in solidarity with the Ukrainians; tens of thousands of people — volunteers, policemen, civil servants, doctors, mayors, businessmen, citizens — mobilized to help the refugees from Ukraine,” she said. “My family also got involved; they could not remain indifferent to the tragedy of our neighbors. I opened my heart and the door of our house to my colleagues, friends, relatives and even families I never met.”
From that day on Feb. 24 when she received the call about the start of the war, Bivol said it’s been difficult for members of the ballet company.
“Our generation does not know what war is like, what explosions sound like,” she said. “It’s scary, because we don’t know what’s going to happen next, but we have hope that soon it will be over. Life doesn’t stop, we have to live our dreams and bring joy on stage, promote beauty and peace in the world.”
Part of that work will bring Bivol and her fellow dancers to the Midstate this coming week. The State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine will have two productions in the area, performing “Sleeping Beauty” at the Hershey Theatre on Nov. 6 and “The Nutcracker” on Nov. 8 at the H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center at Shippensburg University.
Bivol will perform in “The Nutcracker” as the “Ukrainian” doll instead of the “Russian” doll in the classic ballet.
“[The] Nutcracker is the promise of every child that the most incredible dreams can turn into reality. It has become the most popular ballet of all time, because of the need to dream in each of us,” she said.
The task of organizing the North American performances of the State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine falls on the shoulders of Classical Arts Entertainment in New York. Michael Art, the company’s owner, said they annually present and organize tours for the company in the United States and Canada, but this year posed obvious hardships and questions. “First, of course, we were stressed by the start of the war and Russia’s aggressive invasion of Ukraine, and the question arose, what should we do?” he said, noting that plans for a tour take more than a year.
“The organization of [the] tour was almost completed. We had a long conversation with artistic director Andrey Litvinov about what to do and how to be. Finally, after long discussions, we decided to hold a tour at all costs to financially support our dancers’ families. Still, the most important thing is to get them out of the country, protect them from falling bombs and explosions, and save as many lives as possible.”
Art said they are grateful to the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, which gave the dancers special permission to travel to the U.S. and Canada for the tour. Not all of the company’s dancers, however, will make it to the North American tour.
“Someone chose to leave, someone took up a gun, someone volunteered, someone after days of absence from Ukraine, they chose to return home, even if their lives are in danger,” Bivol said.Many wanted to continue to perform, though, she said. “Art will always unite us, whether it’s peace or war. But especially in such times, artists do not abandon each other. I saw the solidarity of all ballet companies in the world, ready to receive artists from Ukraine. The life of an artist is on stage, where they feel free and they can express themselves. Every artist looks for a brighter future and we will work every day until we have it.”
“Ukrainian artists are always happy to come to the USA,” Art said. “I am deeply grateful to everyone for whatever happens in Ukraine; no matter how hard it is for them, this desire does not fade away.”
In addition to organizing a way for the dancers to perform outside of a war zone, Art said his company has also set up a GoFundMe at gofund.me/5cfc6e80 to support the dancers. “All donation funds are sent to artists with children in Ukraine and outside the country, refugees, and those who need help.”
Bivol said she is hopeful about the outcome of the war and glad for the opportunity to come to the United States to share some of that culture.
“By coming [to] USA with ballet performances we want to bring the passion and the love we have for the ballet culture,” she said. “The art will unite us and we will celebrate the victory. I do not believe that art has borders or nationality, but today I’m on the side of the Ukrainian people.”
"Our generation does not know what war is like, what explosions sound like. It's scary, because we don't know what's going to happen next, but we have hope that soon it will be over."
— Luminitza Bivol
State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine’s Annual North American Tour Feels Different This Year
State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine, founded in 2018 and hosted by Classical Arts in Brooklyn, New York, is a 55-member troupe of Ukrainian dancers who come together each year to perform in North America. In what has become an annual tradition, the company has toured its productions of The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and other classics throughout the U.S. and Canada since its founding. But this year, things are different. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, eyes have turned toward the Eastern European nation and its displaced people, including its dancers. For SBTU, that meant a sudden increase in attention—not only from U.S. audiences but also from local ballet students who are invited to join the company onstage each year.
Former ballroom dancer Ekaterina Vaganova-Yachmennikova heads SBTU student engagement alongside her husband, Artem Yachmennikoff, a former San Francisco Ballet and Dutch National Ballet principal, Mariinsky Ballet soloist, and Bolshoi Ballet first soloist. In addition to their positions as co-artistic directors of the company, they also own and direct their studio, We Dance Academy, in Melbourne, Florida, and Viera, Florida. The two got involved with Classical Arts in 2018 with the creation of the organization’s “We Dance” program, which facilitates the local student involvement with SBTU at each touring location. And while the program has always experienced consistent participation, Vaganova-Yachmennikova was blown away by the number of auditioning students for the 2022–23 season.
“The auditions are open for the entire community,” she says, explaining that she and Yachmennikoff work with local host studios to audition area dancers ages 3 and up, including adult ballet students. “At New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), we have a school that last year got 20 dancers to participate, and this year there are 45. There are over 100 total dancers onstage!”
Vaganova-Yachmennikova (who traces her ancestry back to the legendary Agrippina Vaganova) notes the significance of the performance opportunities for young dancers in the U.S. “It’s a unique cultural exchange; they get a global experience and appreciation for working with artists from different backgrounds,” she says, emphasizing that observing how professionals work onstage and performing alongside them is critical for students who want to dance professionally themselves. And for the theaters involved, the company’s annual tours have generated a strong connection over the years. NJPAC executive vice president and executive producer David Rodriguez notes that the Center’s relationship with SBTU goes back several years; the company’s performances, he says, “creates an opportunity to view a single seminal work in a variety of cultural contexts not available elsewhere.”
Vaganova-Yachmennikova explains that this year’s tour is particularly special to SBTU and is thrilled that several theaters have sold out their performances through February. “Dancers already have a very short artistic life,” she says. “Our priority has to be the human life. So the fact that they are able to continue to do their job is priceless given the surrounding circumstances.” Hundreds of people have also shown their support through donations on the Classical Arts website, which goes toward funding SBTU productions and helping the displaced artists and their families.
But the company’s success this year was not met without difficulty. The task of covertly rehearsing in Ukraine and transporting company members, sets and costumes out of the country was not an easy one—and it was risky. “These dancers were forced to leave their homes, and even their families,” says Vaganova-Yachmennikova, “and we have to keep our location in Ukraine undisclosed. But now in the U.S., they’re able to live in some sort of normality; they don’t have to wake up to the sound of sirens.”
The main thing she wishes for North American audiences? To come and see the dancers live. “We are so very appreciative and excited to bring the holiday spirit to these audiences. And we’re hopeful that with love and faith, these crazy times will end soon.”
Set to Prokofiev’s classic score and featuring brand new Choreography and productions by Andrey Litvinov.
The State Ballet Theater of Ukraine premiered the ballet “Cinderella” to a full house in Dnipro, Ukraine, on February 26-27, 2021. Choreography and Design lasted for many months, with the pandemic constantly disrupting the process. Fortunately, this new interpretation of a timeless classic still managed to be completed. The State Ballet of Ukraine will be bringing this wonderful ballet on tour to the U.S.A. and Canada this coming winter November 2021 through January 2022.
You can view the tour itinerary at www.classicalarts.net
“This is a story for all ages. If you believe in a dream - a dream can come true!” Says the tour’s producer, Michael Art. “There is wonderful music in this ballet,” Michael continues. “It’s complex, philosophical, with humor and tragedy. Cinderella has become one of the brightest ballets in our repertoire. The performance involves a ballet troupe of 57 dancers. More than 100 exclusive costumes have been created, especially for this production. “
“Creating the ballet Cinderella, we wanted to give the audience an unforgettable experience, immerse them in a fairy tale, and help them believe in miracles,” says the theater’s artistic director, production designer Konstantin Pinchuk. This is especially important for all of us today when the pandemic has greatly changed everyone's life. Working on the ballet, we primarily focused on the children’s audience. Therefore, the costumes, decorations, props turned out to be very bright and colorful. Our main task is for a child, having seen this ballet, to want to come to the theater again. However, we are sure that the performance will interest audiences of all ages. After all, we all need a real fairy tale in our life!
For more information on the tour tickets and booking, please visit www.classicalarts.net
PR Contact Name: Michael Art
Phone number: (877) 777-6688
For more information on the Product:
Website: www.classicalarts.net tickets for 2021 ballet season performances cinderella get tickets now!
The State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine's Cinderella
The State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine's Cinderella
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