Russian Ballerina Olga Smirnova defects to The Netherlands after denouncing war

Olga Smirnova
Olga Smirnova

A leading Bolshoi prima ballerina, who recently denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is leaving the country to join Dutch National Ballet.

Olga Smirnova, 30, said last week she was “against this war with every fibre of my soul” and was supported by other Russian ballerinas. The Dutch National Ballet confirmed the news on Wednesday that Smirnova will start with them immediately.

Its director Ted Brandsen described her as an “exceptional dancer”.

Smirnova has a Ukrainian grandfather and has described herself as “one-quarter Ukrainian”.

Writing earlier this month, Smirnova said: “In a modern and enlightened world, I expect civilized societies to resolve political matters only through peaceful negotiations.

“I never thought I would be ashamed of Russia, I have always been proud of talented Russian people, of our cultural and athletic achievements. “But now I feel that a line has been drawn that separates the before and the after. It hurts that people are dying, that people are losing the roofs over their heads or are forced to abandon their homes.

“And who would have thought a few weeks ago that all of this would happen? We may not be at the epicentre of the military conflict, but we cannot remain indifferent to this global catastrophe.”

Olga Smirnova as Odette/Odile and Semyon Chudin as Prince Siegfried in The Bolshoi Ballet's production of Yuri Grigorovich's adaptation of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov's Swan Lake at The Royal Opera House on 2 August 2019 in London
Olga Smirnova (right, performing in 2019)

Brandsen welcomed her arrival in a statement. “It is a privilege to have her dance with our company in the Netherlands, even if the circumstances that drove this move are incredibly sad,” he said.

“Nevertheless, as a company we are pleased to have such an inspiring dancer join us at Dutch National Ballet.” The company said Smirnova would be welcomed “with open arms”, adding that her denouncement of Russia’s actions “made it untenable for her to work in her native country”.

Her first role with the company will be appearing in the ballet classic Raymonda, which will premiere on 3 April in Amsterdam. Her comments followed those of choreographer and former dancer Alexei Ratmansky, 53, who grew up in Ukraine and who posted: “Putin must stop this war immediately.”

Ratmansky was artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet for four years until 2008, and cancelled a premiere at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre last month when Russia invaded Ukraine. He has also been posting anti-war messages from other ballet figures. They include Vladimir Shklyarov, 37, a principal dancer with the Mariinsky Ballet and a guest principal with The Royal Ballet.

According to a message posted from Ratmansky’s Facebook account, Shklyarov said: “I am against the war in Ukraine, I am for the people, for the peaceful sky above your heads.”

Diana Vishneva, 45, former principal dancer with the Mariinsky Ballet and soloist at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, said: “We express our opposition to war and any violent action. Sorrow, regret, words of support and sympathy fill our hearts.”

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