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Foreign ballet dancers leave Russia over war with Ukraine

SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA (AP) – Ballet dancers Adrian Blake Mitchell and Andrea Lassakova moved to Russia years ago to chase their dream of performing with the best in a country where people live and breathe ballet.

But days after Russia invaded Ukraine, the couple uprooted their lives and left behind their prized jobs with the prestigious Mikhailovsky Ballet Company in St Petersburg.

Mitchell, who is American, and Lassakova, who is from Slovakia, are among the dozens of foreign dancers who have left Russia since the war started in February. The two are now in the United States (US), preparing for a performance in Southern California.

They said the war is bound to take Russian ballet back to the isolation of the Soviet era.

Russia opened its ballet world to the West in the decades after the Soviet Union’s collapse. In 2011, American ballet dancer David Hallberg became the first foreigner to be named a principal dancer at the storied Bolshoi Ballet.

But in recent weeks, Russian ballet companies have experienced backlash over the war. The Bolshoi Ballet and Mariinsky Ballet companies, Russia’s most renowned ballet institutions, performed in the US every year as part of their international tour, but already performances scheduled for this year have been cancelled.

Andrea Laššáková and Adrian Blake Mitchell rehearse in Santa Monica, California. PHOTO: AP

“It feels like we’re going backward in time in a lot of ways,” Brandt said.

Mitchell and Lassakova lived in Russia for seven years but decided to leave the country in early March after Russian troops invaded Ukraine and as rumours of martial law, financial collapse and the loss of liberties loomed. They hired a taxi and hurriedly left with their dog for Estonia.

While in Russia, the pair didn’t involve themselves in politics, despite seeing many pro-democracy protesters marching outside their apartment. But once across the border, and now in the US, the dance partners have been vocal about their opposition to the war.

Russian ballerina Olga Smirnova quit the Bolshoi Ballet last month to protest the Russian invasion. She now dances with the Dutch National Ballet.

Since arriving in the US, Mitchell and Lassakova have been travelling the country, doing benefit performances and giving talks in support of Ukraine. They are currently rehearsing at Santa Monica’s Westside Ballet for a performance of Russian choreographer Oleg Vinogradov’s Barber’s Adagio.

It’s a ballet Mitchell and Lassakova performed in St Petersburg. Now they fear they may never dance in Russia again.

“Russian ballet is definitely going to be totally isolated,” Mitchell said. “Isolated from the West.”