Feb 17, 2023 - News

Protesters demand Joffrey Ballet cancel its "Anna Karenina" show

Photo of outdoor protest

Protesters hold a bloody ballet puppet outside the Civic Opera House. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

Dozens of Ukraine supporters shouted "stop supporting terrorists" and "shame on you" as patrons arrived at the Civic Opera House for the Joffrey Ballet's production of "Anna Karenina" on Wednesday night.

  • The protesters object to the presentation of any work connected to Russian culture, including this adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's 1878 novel.

Why it matters: As Russia continues its year-old assault on Ukraine, fallout from the conflict includes complex questions about what art is OK to consume.

What they're saying: Ukrainian UIC student Halyna Didula, 24, tells Axios that she launched the protest with friends because, "We believe that it is inhumane and immoral to show [Russian] culture during the war against Ukraine.

  • "'Anna Karenina' is just an example but showing any composer, or poet or dancer — anything to help pay for Russian bullets and to sponsor the terrorism in Ukraine — is wrong."
  • She wants Joffrey to close the production. "Even if they lose some money and some Russian clients, this is about justice in the world," Didula said.

The other side: Joffrey released a statement saying the company "stands with Ukraine" and hopes "their pain and oppression ends in peace."

  • Joffrey has "engaged artists from around the world to tell compelling stories that explore human emotion" since its founding in 1956, the statement continued.
  • "Artistic adaptations of historical pieces of literature about our humanity have the transformative power to create a space for meaning, reflection and healing while allowing us to connect to our past, present, and future."

Zoom out: The protest is part of a larger effort by the nonprofit coalition Ukrainian Congress Committee of America to stop the spread of Russian culture during the war.

  • "It is heartless to support Russian performances at a time when Russia has destroyed over 1,000 cultural objects in Ukraine, including theaters, monuments, libraries, and killed artists, writers, actors, including ballet dancers," UCCA Illinois vice president Marta Farion told the Kyiv Post.
  • That article also notes that the Joffrey production is choreographed by Yuri Possokhov, whose credentials include tenure at Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet.

Between the lines: In online debates about the production, some like Dijana Nicovic Djukic, say it comes down to a need to "separate art from politics."

  • "Tears of kids are [the] same on both sides!! Politicians are not worth comment because [the] only victims are people," Nicovic Djukic wrote on Joffrey's Facebook page.

What's next: Didula says her group will continue protesting performances through the weekend.


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