Culture connects people, and it is a thread which can’t be broken by political tensions. When the Malaysia Airlines Boeing was shot down over the Ukraine last year I was on tour with the Bolshoi in New York. I watched the news and listened to the comments by American politicians about Russia and, frankly, it was scary. Every day we were expecting problems at the Lincoln Center; after all the Bolshoi Theatre is a symbol of Russia. But nothing happened. In fact, the American public enthusiastically welcomed the Russian artists, and the run was sold out. After Spartacus, we received a 20-minute standing ovation! It’s worth a lot and says a lot.
Svetlana Zakharova was talking to the Russian weekly Argumenty I Fakty (AIF) after the surprising decision by the Kiev Ballet School to refuse the money raised by Zakharova and colleagues in a ballet gala at the Bolshoi last month.
They said that I support the policies of Vladimir Putin and therefore my help wasn’t wanted. It was unexpected, and even strange, because apart from me in the gala there were many European artists from the best theatres of the world with different political views. All they wanted to do was help the children of the Kiev school. Politics was not mentioned and we even called the evening Ballet Without Borders!
Zakharova decided to raise money after returning to Kiev to dance with Sergei Polunin. The evening before the performance they visited their old school, the Kiev Ballet Academy.
When we entered the building our hearts started pounding… there was the same smell, the same walls. Nothing had changed in the years since we’d left. They told us that in the winter there was a lack of heating and cold drafts came from the windows. Part of the roof was crumbling and rain entered the building.
I proposed that we could hold a charity gala to raise funds for repairs, with today’s stars who studied at the Kiev School, as well as colleagues who have no relation to it. The gala was exceptional, and the artists gave their all. Everyone understood that we were doing something important.
If the Kiev school doesn’t want her help, there are many others who are benefiting from her generosity:
When I was little, I was helped, and sometimes by people that I didn’t know. I lived in a boarding school and, of course, many could not afford it, but there were people who gave financial support and even ballet shoes.
I, now, want to ensure that children who want to study dance have adequate support. My monthly donation pays for 20 students from different Russian schools to study, and we also support retired dancers.
It is an illusion that we will always be the best. France has a good school, England too. And then, what is happening in China! There is an extremely high level… We have a good tradition but it is also aging, yet everything in the world goes forward, so we too must develop. We must never relax and rest on our laurels.
The statement from the school’s director, Ivan Doroshenko, issued in December, read:
“The Ukrainian artists who participated in the concert appear to not be aware that the Russian dancer Svetlana Zakharova signed a letter supporting the politics of Vladimir Putin in Crimea, otherwise, they would never have agreed to take part in this provocative farce.
The money raised during this concert is not comparable to the thousands of dead, the hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of territory, the tens of billions of hryvnias that Ukraine has lost. Needless to say, the choreography school of Kiev renounces the ‘help’ of Svetlana Zakharova.”
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.