'The show must go on, wherever it is': Kyiv City Ballet to perform in Minneapolis

a ballet dancer bows
The Kyiv City Ballet will perform in Minneapolis Wednesday. It's part of a monthlong tour of the United States, planned while the company has been living in France, unable to return home to Ukraine because of the war with Russia.
Courtesy of Kyiv City Ballet

With its homeland in turmoil, one of the Ukraine's cultural institutions is on its first U.S. tour and will perform at Northrop on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis Wednesday.

The onset of the war found the Kyiv City Ballet in Paris, where it began touring the day before Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Unable to return home, the company has extended that tour and will perform new pieces inspired by the war back home.

The company’s artistic director, Ivan Kozlov, spoke with MPR News host Tom Crann. Hear their conversation using the audio player above or read a transcript of it below. It has been edited for clarity and length.

You and your company were in Paris on tour back in February when Russia invaded your country. What did you think at that time?

We were thinking that we are going on tour for three weeks around France and we are coming back home safely and will keep working from home.

And you have not been back, nor have most of your colleagues, right?

Yes, exactly. The French government provided us a place to stay with a place to work. So we had the opportunity to prepare new performances for touring the United States. So right now we are here.

How are you all holding up? I imagine all of you have family members back home, perhaps in danger and in the military.

We are trying to stay connected with our relatives and friends. My parents are in Kyiv. My father is in the downtown and there has been bombing pretty close to his house. So yeah, we're nervous.

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And all of this, I imagine, is weighing on you as you perform on stage. How do you perform with all of that going on in your minds and in your lives?

This war makes us more motivated. When we go on stage, we represent not just ourselves. Now we feel that we represent our country. So this has motivated us to work harder, be stronger, to show that Ukrainian people are resilient and that we can go onstage and keep smiling. The show must go on wherever it is.

Many of us in the U.S. associate ballet with Russia. The current leader of Russia has attacked your country, yet, there's been so much artistic cooperation. So what does that mean to you?

I don't want to say ballet is the Russian tradition. For a long time it was the Soviet Union and a lot of countries were involved. Ballet is an international language, where we have different accents, I would say. So we are using our language of body, of ballet to show people the message we're trying to say.

So tell me about a new work that you have created called “Tribute to Peace.” It has been choreographed since the invasion of Ukraine. What can the audience expect?

I would call it very light performance, easy to watch. We tried to free up our minds from the invasion. So this is a basically a story of two couples. They have their own small problems and they help each other solve those problems. And everything is finished with a happy ending.

And what's the message you're conveying with this new piece?

That people should live in love and peace. They should help each other.