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The Cleveland Ballet's Ukrainian roots and diverse roster sets a valuable example for the world stage

Posted at 4:00 PM, Feb 24, 2023

CLEVELAND — Dance is known for being a universal language, captivating audiences by not saying a single word and the Cleveland ballet company is bringing together Ukrainians, Russians, and people from all over the world, united, despite tensions continuing overseas.

Outside The Cleveland Ballet Studio, the Ukrainian flag proudly waves. It's blue and yellow represent freedom, love, bravery, and independence. All characteristics, Founder and CEO, Michael Krasnyansky, said is reflected in his dancers.

“They’re different shapes different colors, different abilities and that’s one of the beauties I think of this company,” Krasnyansky said.

Diversity on the dance floor is encouraged, something Krasnyansky said was at the forefront of his childhood growing up in Odessa, Ukraine.

"Even during the Soviet Union era, Odessa was like a different world because we had access to the sea,” she said.

Despite the dreamy tulle of tutus and pearly pink pointe shoes, the war overseas is still very much a nightmare for Ukrainians and Russians who call Cleveland their new home.

“It’s horrible war, nobody needs this war,” said Krasnyansky. “It’s tens of thousands of people dying from Ukrainian side, as well as the Russian side.”

Dancer, Vadim Slatvitskii, lived in Russia most of his life.

“I am originally from Russia and ballet in the United States is so much different,” Slatvitskii said.

Slatvitskii left Russia before tensions got worse between Ukraine and has been dancing in America since 2019. He described the Russian ballet style in a way outsiders would imagine what living in Russia would be like today.

“If we will compare American and Russian dances ballet, Russian ballet is more about rules,” Slatvitskii. “You can’t certain cross certain rules. If you have to do that, you have to do that. There’s not much freedom in movements.”

Out the safety of his family who still lives in Russia, Slatvitskii did not feel comfortable discussing his thoughts on the war. He checks in with his mother daily.

“Everyday, what’s up. Couple messages, couple calls, even if we have 12 hours difference,’ Slatvitskii added.

Krasnyansky understands Slatvitskii, because he lived in Moscow before escaping to Cleveland in 1989. The fear instilled in citizens is not easily forgotten as distance grows and years pass.

“I was working in the largest scientific research unit in the Soviet Union,” Krasnyansky added. “I was not allowed to go to any country outside of Soviet Union. You always need to look around and think who you’re talking to when you’re saying something. If you say something, not even strongly about the government, the results could be very bad.”

Since the war broke out, the Cleveland Ballet has raised $30,000 to help disabled children and women in Ukrainian villages.

“They are fighting for their land, they’re fighting for their future, they’re fighting for their families.”

More fundraisers are planned for later in the year, but as the war is showing no signs of slowing down soon, The Cleveland Ballet is now working to bring Ukrainian dancers stuck in the war zone to the U.S.

“I have goosebumps, yesterday we gave an offer to a Ukrainian dancer,” Krasnyansky said. “He’s 19-years-old, he’s a beautiful Ukraine dancer. Hopefully we will help him with a Visa.”

Though The Cleveland Ballet is a melting pot and where you come from doesn’t define you, it above all reflects a world in which we all wish exited, that in which Ukraine and Russia are not fighting, but instead dancing, happily in unison.

“We can definitely coexist under one roof work together, live together,” Krasnyansky said. “That’s not the war of the normal people.”

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