In an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper, Olga Smirnova – the courageously outspoken Bolshoi star who has left Russia to join the Dutch National Ballet – talked about her bold decision.
Everything happened extremely fast. I discussed the situation in Moscow with Ted Brandsen, the artistic director of the Dutch National Ballet, and he suggested that I go to Amsterdam and join the ballet company. I didn’t anticipate this at all… it was something completely unexpected. I only took the bare essentials with me.
My parents still haven’t realised that I’ve left. It will take time for them to accept it. But I hope they understand my choice, that’s all I can say for now.
[The Bolshoi] has been my home for ten years and, of course, it is an important career in Russia. I was lucky to be part of it.
The recently promoted Bolshoi principal dancer Jacopo Tissi also left the Bolshoi and returned to Italy.
I made my decision based on my values and what I believe in. Everyone does what they need to. Jacopo is a dear colleague, and we talk regularly, but our decisions are completely separate.
Smirnova says that art in Ukraine is paying a high price…
The bombing of the theatre in Mariupol, the Kyiv Opera dancer Artem Datsyshyn killed by the bombs… This is horrible, that’s why I am against the war and my thoughts are with all the victims. I will do what I can to stop the war and help a population that is exhausted and suffering. I don’t want to become a symbol, that’s not my intention. I want to express my sincere opinion and try to help.
And Sergei Polunin with his Putin tattoo?
This is a time when everyone must deal with their conscience. I don’t know what he thinks now.
My country needs people like Marina Ovsyannikova [the Russian newsreader who stormed live Russian TV with a sign protesting about the Russia-Ukraine war], who are not afraid to tell the truth.
She told the journalist Valerio Cappelli that the dancers in the company dare not talk about the war in Ukraine.
Some have expressed opinions, but I don’t know how many more will follow… there is a fear of speaking out.
And after this is over?
We will need much effort to rehabilitate Russia’s image in the world. Russian intellectuals and artists will be called upon to play a major role in this process.
Russian culture is extraordinary and belongs to the whole world.
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.