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Ballet Greats Unite For London Ukraine Benefit Gala

World-famous ballet dancers from Russia and Ukraine, Argentina, Cuba, France and Japan come together Saturday for a gala to raise funds for Ukraine and send a message of peace.

“We as artists have talent and we need to use this talent to say what we believe in,” Ukraine’s Ivan Putrov, co-organizer of the event to be held at the English National Opera’s London Coliseum, told AFP.

“Art has a voice and is the voice that we use,” said Putrov, who was a principal dancer with London’s prestigious Royal Ballet from 2002-10.

Putrov and Romanian ballerina Alina Cojocaru both trained in Kyiv and decided to mobilize the world of ballet for this “humanitarian appeal” in the face of Russia’s invasion.

Now, they have united a team of exceptional dancers to “raise funds that will save lives,” Putrov said.

The message is not only for the West and those in Ukraine, but also Russia.

“Some Russians will hear us and will raise their voice… because what’s happening is outrageous,” he said.

Stars taking the stage include Russia’s Natalia Osipova, Argentina’s Marianela Nunez and Japan’s Fumi Kaneko, all from the Royal Ballet, and France’s Mathieu Ganio from the Paris Opera.

Ukraine’s Katja Khaniukova, Spain’s Aitor Arrieta and the United States’ Emma Hawes of the English National Ballet will also perform on the night.

The evening hopes to raise more than $130,000 for the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) UK charity collective which includes the British Red Cross and is helping victims of the war.

“Is art appropriate in such a horrible circumstance? Of course it is, because it gives hope, it gives inspiration to people,” said Putrov.

Loaded with symbolism

The Ukrainian national anthem will open the evening, which will close with The Triumph of Love from the ballet Raymonda, with music by Russia’s Alexander Glazunov.

In between there will be 13 symbolism-laden choreographies such as No Man’s Land by Liam Scarlett, Lacrimosa by Gyula Pandi and Ashes by Jason Kittelberger.

Russian composers including Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff will also be played.

“Russian culture doesn’t have anything to do with (President Vladimir) Putin, and equally Putin has nothing to do with Russian culture,” said Putrov.

Osipova, one of the most famous Russian dancers outside her country, declined to be interviewed.

But her presence “signifies that Russia doesn’t equal aggression,” said Putrov.

Cuba’s Javier Torres of the Northern Ballet will perform The Death of a Swan by Camille Saint-Saens.

The piece is about a paraplegic who loses one of his limbs and “represents fighting for what you have lost,” Torres told AFP.

“It talks about fighting to the end and that’s how I wanted to interpret it,” he said, thinking of “people who try to resist what happens to them,” like the Ukrainians mired in war or the Cubans who have suffered under decades of U.S. sanctions and embargoes, and “even by the Russians” in Soviet times.

“I have that pain, I have that anguish that every Cuban who lives outside of Cuba has, because we know the needs that are experienced there,” he said.

He said he has not previously mixed art with politics, but Saturday’s gala is “a humanitarian duty as a dancer, as a human rights defender, first as a person and then as an artist.”

Source: Voice of America