On February 23, 2022, when the Kyiv City Ballet flew from the company’s home base in the Ukrainian capital to Paris, embarking on a long-planned tour of Europe, none of its members knew they were saying goodbye to their home country for an indeterminate length of time. The very next day, the Russian army invaded Ukraine.
The 10-year-old company—which includes more than 35 dancers, as well as teachers, administrators, lighting and makeup designers, artistic director and founder Ivan Kozlov, and Kozlov’s wife, deputy director Ekaterina Kozlova—has been based in Paris ever since, giving performances in France, the U.K., and the Czech Republic. And, this month, they’re coming to the U.S. for the first time.
“We feel that we are representing our country,” Kozlov says. “We are helping our country the way we can—we are the warriors on the stage.”
The 14-city tour begins in Wilmington, North Carolina, on September 16, with other stops through the end of October slated for stages in New York, Chicago, Oklahoma City, and beyond. Many of the dancers are visiting the U.S. for the first time, and while there is of course a great deal of excitement, they continue to fear for their families at home. “We are trying to stay up,” Kozlov says, adding that the dancers and crew lean on each other for support. “There is no other way.”
If recent European performances are any indication, the welcome they receive should be plenty supportive. “The reception [has been] the best possible,” Kozlov says. “Audiences are great, standing ovations every time, tickets are selling in two or three hours.”
Among the works the troupe is performing in the U.S. are a full-length production of Swan Lake; Men of Kyiv, a Ukrainian folk dance; and a mixed repertory program featuring excerpts from wedding scenes of popular classical ballets, such as Paquita, Don Quixote, and La Bayadère. Additionally, the company is premiering two new pieces, Thoughts and Tribute to Peace. The latter, a Neoclassical ballet choreographed by Kozlov and Kozlova, is not necessarily meant as a direct response to the war; rather, it aims to clear audience members’ minds and foster internal peace through a serene performance that offers a more harmonious vision for the world. “You’re just watching a beautiful scene, enjoying the story,” Kozlov says. “And it’s a happy ending—the way we would like to live.”