Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, former artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet and now artist-in-residence at the American Ballet Theatre, was attending a new ballet at the Bolshoi in Moscow when, early Thursday morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he was launching an invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
Ratmansky, who had grown up in Kiev and danced there early in his career, immediately decided to leave Moscow and, with the help of the Bolshoi, made arrangements to fly home to New York via Warsaw, along with the rest of his international creative team.
“It was like we were on a fast-moving train, pushing towards the end,” Mr. Ratmansky said of the internship, in an interview on Saturday. “The news was bad, but I was utterly torn between creation, love, despair—all those words. I thought if the actual military action began, I wouldn’t be able to continue, but until then, I would try to ignore the news and be professional and just do my job.”
The ballet, which is set to Bach’s “Art of the Fugue,” was scheduled to premiere on March 30 but was postponed indefinitely. When asked about a comment, the head of the Bolshoi press office, Katerina Novikova, referred to a statement about theater sitewhich says that it was postponed after “negotiations with the interim team”.
The ballet has not been officially canceled. “This project is very important for the Bolshoi Theatre, a great deal of work has already been done so far, and we hope to be able to realize this project,” the statement says. Mr. Ratmansky was also quoted as saying, “When the time comes, I hope to return to Moscow to complete the production.”
But after witnessing the brutality of the invasion, he said he wasn’t sure when that would happen. Much of his family lives in Ukraine. “I doubt I would go if Putin was still president,” he said.
On Wednesday night, he had gone to sleep in his room at the Metropol Hotel, across a plaza from the Bolshoi, alarmed by the ominous reports he had been seeing in the international media of Russian troops massing along the border with Ukraine. But he said he did not expect the large-scale attack that would follow hours later. “I thought nothing would change,” he said, “there has been conflict with separatists along the border since 2014”. His wife, Tatiana, woke him up Thursday morning, and called him from New York with the news. “The first thing I did was call the Bolshoi and arrange to leave.”
In addition to “Art of the Regiment,” Mr. Ratmansky has another, much larger project that seems unlikely to be completed any time soon: a lavish and historically enlightening production of Petipa’s 1862 Ballet “Pharaoh’s Daughter” for the Mariinsky Ballet in Saint Petersburg.
“Pharaoh’s daughter” The premiere was scheduled to be in mid-MayRatmansky told Mariinsky that, given the situation, he would not be able to return to finish the ballet in April as planned.
Mr. Ratmansky is Ukrainian and Russian. His parents, sister, nieces and nephews live in Kiev, as well as the family of Mrs. Ratmansky, who is Ukrainian.
Mr. Ratmansky remains in frequent telephone contact with his family. His parents, initially in their eighties, took refuge in the basement of their building in the downtown area, before driving to a small country house about an hour out of town. Other family members were sheltering in underground garages and basements.
They are all safe now, Mr. Ratmansky said, “trying to maintain good spirits.”
When asked if the current conflict has brought back memories of the war for his mother, who suffered from the siege of Leningrad, and his father, who had to be evacuated from Kiev before the Nazi invasion and many family members lost in the Holocaust, Ratmansky said, “We haven’t talked about it.” We’re just talking about, are you okay?”
The repercussions of the Russian invasion are already beginning to be felt in Russian cultural circles. Orchestra conductor Valery Gergiev, who is close to Putin, has Concerts at Carnegie Hall have been cancelled. The Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, where Gergiev was principal conductor, threatened to terminate his contract If he doesn’t speak out against the invasion, as did La Scala in Milan. The Bolshoi Ballet tour to the Royal Opera House in London this summer has been cancelled. Russia was even excluded from popularity Eurovision Song Contest.
“Both projects are very close to my heart,” Mr. Ratmansky said of his dances. “But for now, the only thing that matters is that Ukraine will survive, preserve its independence, and our families will survive.”