“I never thought I would be ashamed of Russia..I am against war with all my soul”

Lee Heidhues 4.15.2022

I have always danced around the edge of Ballet.  My parents took ballet lessons at a ballet school in San Francisco run by Russian emigres. They had  friends and acquaintances in the ballet community. Growing up I was impressed by the physical strength and ability of ballet dancers.

To a young boy growing up it was all very exotic.

My parents attended the ballet regularly.  My  mom worked at the San Francisco Ballet School for years.

I realize it is a genuine shock to the professional Russian ballet community to learn a lead dancer in the world reknown Bolshoi ballet has defected.

To protest her government’s brutal war against The Ukraine. 

Excerpted from The New York Times 4.15.2022

AMSTERDAM — Just days after the invasion of Ukraine, Olga Smirnova, one of Russia’s most important ballerinas, posted an emotional statement on Telegram, the messaging app. “I am against war with all the fibers of my soul,” she wrote.

Russian ballerina Smirnova II

“I never thought I would be ashamed of Russia,” she added, “but now I feel that a line has been drawn that separates the before and the after.”

That’s certainly been true for Ms. Smirnova, 30. As the war got worse, and dissent in Russia was ruthlessly quashed, Ms. Smirnova, who had gone to Dubai to recover from a knee injury, realized that she could no longer return home. “If I were to go back to Russia, I would have to completely change my opinion, the way I felt about the war,” Ms. Smirnova said in a recent interview in Amsterdam, adding that returning would be, “quite frankly, dangerous.”

Russian ballerina Smirnova VI.jpg
Olga Smirnova – Vogue Magazine Russia

So she left the Bolshoi, the storied company whose name is synonymous with ballet, with its gilded theaters just blocks from the Kremlin, uprooted her life and moved to Amsterdam, where she joined the Dutch National Ballet.

“We’re going back to the Cold War,” said Ted Brandsen, the artistic director of Dutch National Ballet and Ms. Smirnova’s new boss, invoking a time notable for the defections of Soviet dance stars including Rudolf NureyevMikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova. Mr. Brandsen said Russian dancers were contacting him daily saying, “I can’t be myself as an artist in this country.”

Russian ballerina Smirnova IV

Simon Morrison, a Princeton professor and historian of the Bolshoi, said that in recent years the Bolshoi had become “more liberal, international, cosmopolitan, more experimental,” even staging a ballet about Nureyev that touched on his homosexuality. Now, he said, it was looking at “an impoverishment of the repertoire.”

Ballet in Russia is something of a national pastime — a cultural jewel, but also the focus of intense emotion and close scrutiny by its discerning audiences, even if it’s less popular with the pop-culture obsessed young. Ballet is “beloved by Russian people like no other place in the world,” said David Hallberg, who in 2011 became the first American dancer to become a principal at the Bolshoi, half a century after Nureyev became the first major Soviet dancer to defect to the West.