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Russian, Ukrainian ballet stars dance together in Naples

Maria Grazia Murru & Frances D’emilio

NAPLES (AP) – A Ukrainian ballerina who fled the war in her homeland and a Russian ballerina who quit the Bolshoi Ballet over the Russian invasion rehearsed on a stage in Naples ahead of a sold-out benefit performance on Monday night to raise funds for the Red Cross and champion the cause of peace in Ukraine.

Naples’ San Carlo Theater billed the event ‘Stand with Ukraine – Ballet for Peace’.

Despite that description, the prospect of Russian dancers dancing on the same stage with Ukrainians reportedly angered Ukraine’s consul in Naples. The Italian daily La Repubblica quoted the consul as telling fellow Ukrainians in the southern Italian city to shun the performance.

Among the stars in the event is prima ballerina Olga Smirnova, who quit the Bolshoi last month and is now dancing with the Dutch National Ballet. Another headliner is Anastasia Gurskaya, a top ballerina in Kyiv’s Opera, who fled the fighting in Ukraine.

“I think it’s important in this situation, in this time, to be together on the stage. To do little things, the smallest things, what we can do for Ukraine,” Smirnova told reporters in the theatre ahead of the final rehearsal. “This is the main goal for all of us. That’s why we are here, that’s why we are dancing tonight.”

Olga Smirnova, Naples San Carlo theatre’s art director Alessio Carbone and Anastasya Gurskaya pose for a photograph in Naples. PHOTO: AP

Fellow prima ballerina Gurskaya said her performance is one way to help Ukraine.

“My life is upside down now. And I’ve never been in Italy in this city, and I’ve never danced with stars like today, with world ballet stars, and I am so excited about it. And I don’t know why this happened to me,” the Ukrainian dancer told The Associated Press. “I am really happy I am here and I can help and support my country with my dancing today.”

The theatre’s artistic director Alessio Carbone hailed Smirnova’s participation. “Olga is a very strong image for us, because obviously she was the first dancer who publicly opposed the (Putin) regime. So to have her with us tonight is an inspiration of courage,” Carbone said.

No one responded to telephone calls on Monday at Ukraine’s consulate in Naples.

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