Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, the former Artistic Director of the Bolshoi Ballet, now artist in residence at the American Ballet Theatre, was preparing a new ballet at the Bolshoi in Moscow when President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia announced early Thursday morning that he that he had launched an invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
Ratmansky, who grew up in Kiev and danced there early in his career, immediately decided to leave Moscow and with the help of the Bolshoi arranged a journey home via Warsaw to New York, along with the rest of his international creatives. team.
“It was like running to the finish in a fast-moving train,” said Mr. Ratmansky about the rehearsal period in an interview on Saturday. “The news was bad, but I was absolutely torn between creation, love and despair – all these words. I thought if actual military action starts I won’t be able to move forward, but until then I’ll try to ignore the news and be professional and just do my job.”
The ballet, to Bach’s ‘Kunst der Fuge’, was supposed to premiere on March 30, but has been postponed indefinitely. The head of the Bolshoi’s press service, Katerina Novikova, when asked for comment, pointed to a statement posted on the theater’s website, saying it was being postponed after “negotiations with the staging team”.
The ballet has not been officially cancelled. The statement said: “This project is extremely important for the Bolshoi Theater, a lot of work has already been done and we hope to make this project a reality.” Ratmansky is also quoted as saying, “when the time comes, I hope to return to Moscow to complete production.”
But after seeing the brutality of the invasion, he said he wasn’t sure when that would be. A large part of his family lives in Ukraine. “I doubt I would go if Putin is still president,” he said.
On Wednesday night he had gone to sleep in his room at the Metropol Hotel, across a square from the Bolshoi, concerned about the ominous reports he saw in the international media of massive Russian troops along the border with Ukraine. But, he said, he didn’t expect the large-scale attack that would follow hours later. “I thought nothing would change,” he said, “since 2014 there has been a conflict with the separatists along the border.” His wife, Tatiana, woke him up on Thursday morning and called him from New York with the news. “The first thing I did was call the Bolshoi and arrange for me to leave.”
In addition to ‘The art of the fugue’, mr. Ratmansky yet another, even bigger project now unlikely to be completed any time soon: a lavish, historically informed production of the 1862 Petipa ballet “The Pharaoh’s Daughter” for the Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg.
“The Pharaoh’s Daughter” was set to premiere in mid-May, but Mr. Ratmansky has informed the Mariinsky that given the situation, he would not be able to return to finish the ballet in April as scheduled.
Mr. Ratmansky is Ukrainian and Russian. His parents, sister, nieces and nephews live in Kiev, as does Mrs. Ratmansky’s family, who is Ukrainian.
Understand the Russian attack on Ukraine
What is the basis of this invasion? Russia considers Ukraine to be within its natural sphere of influence, and it has become nervous about Ukraine’s proximity to the West and the prospect of the country becoming a member of NATO or the European Union. Although Ukraine is part of neither, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
Mr. Ratmansky has regular telephone contact with his family. His parents, initially in their eighties, took shelter in the basement of their downtown building before driving to a small mansion about an hour’s drive from town. Other relatives took shelter in underground garages and cellars.
For now, they are all safe and, said Mr. Ratmansky, “trying to keep your spirits up.”
When asked whether the current conflict had evoked war memories for his mother, who lived through the siege of Leningrad, and his father, who had to be evacuated from Kiev for the Nazi invasion and had lost several relatives to the Holocaust, Ratmansky said: we haven’t talked about. We just talk about, ‘Are you okay?’”
The effects of the Russian invasion are already being felt in the cultural circles of Russia. The conductor Valery Gergiev, who is close to Mr Putin, has had concerts at Carnegie Hall canceled. The Munich Philharmonic, where Gergiev is chief conductor, has threatened to terminate his contract if he did not speak out against the invasion, as has Milan’s La Scala. A Bolshoi Ballet tour to the Royal Opera House in London this summer has been cancelled. Russia was even excluded from the popular Eurovision Song Contest.
“Both projects are very close to my heart,” said Mr. Ratmansky on his ballets. “But right now, all that matters is that Ukraine survives, maintains its independence and that our families stay alive.”