Feature · Arts
As war rages in Ukraine, ballerinas return to the stage
In the western city of Lviv, residents are trying to restore a sense of life returning to normal as fighting rages elsewhere in the country.
As the audience waits impatiently in their seats, a familiar message reverberates across the hall, reminding customers to turn off their phones and immerse themselves in the experience.
Immediately followed by an abnormal announcement. “Dear guest, our event will be suspended in the event of an air raid alert. Dancers and spectators should go to the bomb shelter located in the theater,” he told the audience – a touching reminder that this is no ordinary night at the theater.
Then the lights dim, the orchestra begins to play, and a dancer appears on stage from the wings.
“In one way or another, the war affects all of us,” the opera’s artistic director, Vasyl Vovkon, told CNN. “We understand that light must defeat darkness, that life must defeat death, and the task of theater is to confirm this.”
Theater windows are covered with duct tape to protect them in the event of a Russian air strike. credit: Serhii Korovayny for CNN
For those left behind in this resilient city, residents are slowly learning to live with war. Downtown cafes and restaurants are once again running busy business, the streets are once again bustling with foot traffic, and residents are back for casual strolls in the parks.
Fauvcon says that providing a place of solace in the midst of intense conflict is the driving force behind the resumption of performances.
Vasyl Vovkon, 64, artistic director of the Lviv Opera, poses for a photo in the theater hall. credit: Serhii Korovayny for CNN
A child waits for the show to start after the break. credit: Serhii Korovayny for CNN
21-year-old Darina Kirik, an outstanding ballerina of the Lviv Opera, is preparing for this show. credit: Serhii Korovayny for CNN
To start, he chose the well-performing ballet classic “Giselle”. The film, Two Dances, tells the story of a beautiful peasant girl who dies prematurely after being betrayed by the man she loves.
The 64-year-old former Minister of Culture and Tourism explains: “Giselle also has all degrees of joy and sadness, there is also death and there is also the triumph of love. Indeed, this topic is constant today. Even when we hear a lot about death, we still hope, in this work And in life, love triumphs, and life triumphs.
While his selection has proven popular – with tickets sold out – many seats remain empty.
“Despite the fact that we can only accept 300 people because we can only take so many in the shelter, it is still a great task for us,” Vovcon continues. “To give people something to forget about the news…in this difficult time, because there is no good news in war. And to revive them spiritually during the war, looking at this piece of art.”
The show crew makes one last prep before the curtain opens. credit: Serhii Korovayny for CNN
Putting on a good show is of paramount importance to the theater’s army of artists. Hours before the show, the production staff would check the lighting three times while others made sure every detail on the set was perfect.
Inside the bowels of the stage, customers were rushing up and down the stairs, tutus in hand. Meanwhile the dancers trotted along the aisles, their precious feet in protective slippers.
An employee prepares the evening productions. credit: Serhii Korovayny for CNN
Dancers Daria Kuzmina and Dmytro Kolomets are rehearsing for an upcoming show. credit: Serhii Korovayny for CNN
Opera singer Roland Marchoc rehearsing in his office. credit: Serhii Korovayny for CNN
From one of the training rooms, a bass sound reverberated up the narrow stairs to the training rooms upstairs. In another part of the building, ballerinas sat quietly while stylists stroked their hair before smoothing it and pinning it tightly in place.
Maria Malanchin, 68, has worked as a make-up artist at the Cultural Foundation for five decades. She told CNN that the opera house is in demand now more than ever.
“In my opinion, culture is mandatory, always, more than that now,” she explains. “Now we have a lot of displaced people, it’s very difficult for them. But we are showing them that life can go on.”
A dancer jumps during the performance of the classical ballet “Giselle”. credit: Serhii Korovayny for CNN
The dancers prepare themselves moments before the show begins. credit: Serhii Korovayny for CNN
Daryna Kirik and Olexandr Omelchenko perform the ballet “Giselle” – the first full-fledged performance to be performed at the Lviv National Opera since the beginning of the war. credit: Serhii Korovayny for CNN
“Dance helps distract from what’s going on,” says the soloist. “Most of my relatives are in the Kyiv region and now Kiev. My mother, grandmother and sister survived the occupation in Bucha. My mother managed to evacuate herself and her pets. She is now safe in Poland on her nerve.”
For Kerik, returning to the stage gave her a renewed sense of purpose and a chance to express her feelings through her craft.
She says that what she loves most about playing Gisele is “the opportunity to express feelings in the scene of madness. All the negative feelings that have accumulated for so long can flow with those feelings for the character.”
Two dancers embrace as part of the performance. credit: Serhii Korovayny for CNN
For a few hours, the audience is removed from the chaos of reality. The crowd is dazzled by every leap, lever, and arabesque.
It’s only a two-hour show but it seems to have achieved its goal of cheering up the audience.
Says Victoria Palamarchuk, a 50-year-old journalist, who is currently residing with her extended family in Lviv after leaving her home in the central Zhytomyr region.
With a warm smile, she adds, “Life can’t be beat with places like this—theatres, operas, ballet theaters—while people come here and get excited with these sounds.”