Ukrainian ballet company thrives with Seattle show despite war

Dec 1, 2023, 6:12 AM | Updated: 7:00 am

ukraninan ballet...

(Photo courtesy of People's Artists of Ukraine Kateryna Kukhar and Oleksandr Stoianov)

(Photo courtesy of People's Artists of Ukraine Kateryna Kukhar and Oleksandr Stoianov)

The Grand Kyiv Ballet takes the stage at Seattle’s Paramount in December in a performance of Snow White that promoters call elegant and mesmerizing.

But two of the Ballet’s principal dancers have their own fascinating story to tell about getting their family out of war-torn Ukraine and keeping their ballet company on its toes.

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Speaking to the couple in the dance studio where they rehearse, Kateryna Kukhar’s laughter filled the room.

“Your English is terrible!” her husband and partner, Oleksandr Stoianov, teasingly said.

“I will learn English,” she giggled.

It’s not their native language. Both are Ukrainian and dance with the Grande Kyiv Ballet, where Stoianov also serves as artistic director. They now call Seattle home. Their path here started in February of 2022 when they were traveling and performing separately before reuniting in France.

“We meet each other in Nice,” Soianov said.

From there they had planned to fly home to their children in Ukraine, but just hours before their flight, Russia invaded Ukraine.

“It was the most terrible day,” Kukhar said. “Because our babysitter calls us crying.”

The babysitter, who was caring for their 6-and-a-half-year-old daughter Anatasia, was frantic. Russia was battling for control of Kyiv, where the family lived. Soianov said flying the pair out was not an option because the airport was closed.

“How did you get them out?” I asked. The question was met with a heavy sigh.

“Oh- difficult,” Kuhar simply said.

What followed, they said, were frantic phone calls to find a friend who had not yet evacuated to get their daughter and babysitter out of the country.

“We called a friend. Called another. Called another,” Stoianov said. Finally, they found someone who could take their daughter and babysitter to Ukraine’s border with Poland.

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The roads were jammed with evacuees and uncertain danger, so the hours-long journey took three days.

In the meantime, their 13-year-old son Timur was in another part of Ukraine where he’d been skiing with family friends.

They fled to Ukraine’s border with Hungary. Kuhar said much of that journey was on foot.

“And they walk eight hours, to cross (over the border) to meet us,” Kuhar said.

Reunited with their children, the family is now staying with friends in the Seattle area, where it’s turned out that the war is keeping them busier than ever.

“In Ukraine, my nickname,” Stoianov said, “is crazy producer, crazy manager.”

He said that the Grand Kyiv Ballet Company has actually grown because of the war. The main company is now based in Poland, but they’ve added several dance troupes around the world that are employing dancers who have been displaced by the conflict.

The effort is keeping artists employed and doing what Kuhar says they live for.

“Art gives us wings,” she added.

There is an added significance for Stoianov.

“I created my company, Grand Kyiv Ballet in 2014 when Russia first time tried to take our territory,” he said.

Stoianov is from Crimea, which Russia now occupies. With Grand Kiyv Ballet not only thriving, but expanding, he explained, “this is our win in our cultural front.”

When the couple takes the stage at Seattle’s Paramount Theater, their performance will not only be elegant and joyful, but a show of strength against those who invaded their native Ukraine. The Grand Kyiv Ballet performs “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” at the Paramount Theater from December 20-23.

Follow Heather Bosch on Twitter or email her here.

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