Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, the former artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet who is now artist-in-residence at the American Ballet Theatre, was preparing a new ballet at the Bolshoi in Moscow when Russian President Vladimir V. Putin made his announcement early Thursday morning that he had launched an invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
Mr. Ratmansky, who grew up in Kyiv and danced there early in his career, immediately decided to leave Moscow and, with the help of the Bolshoi, made arrangements to return home to New York via Warsaw, with the rest of his international creation. team.
“It was like we were on a fast-moving train, rushing towards the finish,” Mr. Ratmansky said of the rehearsal period, during an interview on Saturday. “The news was bad, but I was absolutely torn between creation, love and despair – all those words. I thought if real military action started I couldn’t go on, but until then I I’ll try to ignore the news and be professional and do my job.
The ballet, set to Bach’s “The Art of Fugue”, was due to have its premiere on March 30 but has been postponed indefinitely. Bolshoi press office chief Katerina Novikova, when asked for comment, pointed to a statement about the theater websitewho says it was postponed after “negotiations with the staging team”.
The ballet has not been officially canceled. The statement reads: “This project is extremely important for the Bolshoi Theatre, a significant amount of work has already been done to date, and we hope to be able to complete this project.” Mr. Ratmansky is also quoted, saying “when the time comes, I hope to return to Moscow to complete the production.”
But after seeing the brutality of the invasion, he said he wasn’t sure when it would be. A large part of his family lives in Ukraine. “I doubt I would go if Putin was still president,” he said.
On Wednesday evening, he had gone to sleep in his room at the Metropol Hotel, opposite the Bolshoi, worried about the disturbing reports he was seeing in the international media about Russian troops massed along the border with Ukraine. But, he said, he did not expect the full-scale assault that would follow hours later. “I thought nothing was going to change,” he said, “there has been a conflict with the separatists along the border since 2014.” His wife, Tatiana, woke him Thursday morning, calling him from New York with the news. “The first thing I did was call the Bolshoi and make arrangements to leave.”
In addition to “The Art of Fugue,” Mr. Ratmansky has another even larger project that now seems unlikely to be completed any time soon: a lavish and historically informed production of Petipa’s 1862 ballet “La fille du pharaoh”, for the Mariinsky Ballet in Saint Petersburg.
“The Pharaoh’s Daughter” was to have its premiere in mid-Maybut Mr. Ratmansky informed the Mariinsky that, given the situation, he could not return to finish the ballet in April as planned.
Mr. Ratmansky is Ukrainian and Russian. Her parents, sister, nieces and nephews live in Kyiv, as does Ms. Ratmansky’s family, who are Ukrainians.
Mr. Ratmansky remains in frequent telephone contact with his family. His parents, in their 80s, first took refuge in the basement of their apartment building in the city center, before driving to a small country house about an hour from the city. Other family members took refuge in underground garages and basements.
They are all safe at the moment and, Mr Ratmansky said, “they are trying to keep their spirits up”.
When asked if the current conflict had brought back memories of war for his mother, who lived through the siege of Leningrad, and his father, who had to be evacuated from Kiev before the Nazi invasion and lost several limbs of his family because of the Holocaust, Ratmansky said, “We haven’t talked about it. We just talk about ‘are you okay?’
The repercussions of the Russian invasion are already being felt in Russian cultural circles. The conductor Valery Gergiev, close to Mr. Putin, has seen his concerts canceled at Carnegie Hall. The Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, of which Gergiev is principal conductor, threatened to terminate his contract if he did not speak out against the invasion, as La Scala in Milan did. A tour of the Bolshoi Ballet at the Royal Opera House in London this summer has been cancelled. Russia was even disinvited from the popular Eurovision Song Contest.
“These two projects are very close to my heart,” Mr. Ratmansky said of his ballets. “But for now, the only thing that matters is that Ukraine survives, keeps its independence and our families stay alive.”