Mar 16, 2022 - World

Bolshoi ballerina leaves Russia after condemning Ukraine invasion

Olga Smirnova

Olga Smirnova in the Bolshoi Ballet's production of Swan Lake in 2016. Photo: Robbie Jack/Corbis via Getty Images

Prima ballerina Olga Smirnova, one of the leading stars of Russia's celebrated Bolshoi Ballet, has left the country and joined the Dutch National Ballet, the company announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: Smirnova's decision to quit the Bolshoi makes her one of the most significant cultural figures to leave the country following Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, per the New York Times.

  • Most of the other dancers who have left the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky Ballet, the country's other acclaimed company, have not been Russian, the Times reported.

State of play: Smirnova has made her opposition to the war publicly clear.

  • "I am against war with all the fibers of my soul. It is not only about every other Russian perhaps having relatives or friends living in Ukraine, or about my grandfather being Ukrainian and me being quarter Ukrainian," she wrote in a Telegram message earlier this month, per the press release.
  • "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," she added.
  • Smirnova added that she had been considering a move to the Dutch National ballet for "quite a while," noting that the company would help her further her career as a ballerina. "The current circumstances accelerated this process," she added.
  • The press release added that several factors were at play in Smirnova's decision to come to the Netherlands, including Russia's ties with the artistic community being severed as well as her personal admiration for the company's choreographer.

The bottom line: "Olga Smirnova is an exceptional dancer who I admire very much. ... 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," Ted Brandsen, director of Dutch National Ballet, said in the press release.

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