National Ballet of Ukraine | Dancing, again and again, despite the war

The National Ballet of Ukraine will be touring Canada in January and February. Quebec, Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, among others, are on the troop’s schedule. We spoke with Natalia Matsak, principal dancer of the company and choreographer of the show.

It is on a cold November morning that we communicate – by Zoom – with dancer and choreographer Natalia Matsak. Despite the war between Ukraine and Russia, the young woman is in Kyiv, like the other dancers in the company. This is the first question we ask him. Have you ever thought about leaving your country?

“Never,” Natalia Matsak answers us without hesitation. It’s important for us to stay here. It’s our culture that we defend, the 41-year-old artist tells us. It’s all very political, of course, but it’s our home, even if it’s heavy to bear, even if it’s difficult…”

Natalia Matsak is taking a break. “It’s certain that we can’t sleep normally here. With the sound of sirens, we never know what will fall on our heads, if there is a drone or if we will run out of electricity. We are at war, this is our life now. It’s not normal, but we adapt. »

His colleague Olga Kifyak, who is one of the 27 dancers from the company taking part in this tour, has lost her father and brother since the start of the war. She lights two small lanterns in her dressing room before each performance. She’s not the only one. Each member of the troupe bears the traces of this conflict which has dragged on for almost two years.

Natalia Matsak has an aunt who lives in Mariupol in extremely difficult conditions. “We get news as best we can, but it’s hard, because she can’t leave. I have family elsewhere in Ukraine as well, there is a lot of uncertainty. »


Dancer and choreographer Natalia Matsak

By dancing, despite the war, it helps us to think of other things because we work all the time, but we feel that it is even more important for the public, when we dance here, in Ukraine. People need to have access to culture. Especially in times of war.

Natalia Matsak, dancer and choreographer

Between now and next January, the Ukrainian National Ballet of the Taras Shevchenko National Opera will travel to Italy and Japan. The Canadian tour will follow after the holidays. But between each series of performances, the dancers return home to Kyiv to their loved ones.

No contacts with Russian artists

Principal dancer of the National Ballet of Ukraine, Natalia Matsak was trained by Ukrainian and Russian dancers and choreographers. She danced in the renowned Mariinsky and Mikhailovsky theaters in Saint Petersburg and at the Bolshoi in Moscow, and worked with many Russian artists, such as Boris Eifman. Has she kept in touch with any of them?

No. There are many dancers and choreographers who support this war, so it is not possible for us to talk to them. It’s a little different with Russian artists who live in exile, but with those who live in Russia, at least with the vast majority of them, it’s impossible to have a connection.

Natalia Matsak, dancer and choreographer

You guessed it, this tour is eminently political. She’s even part of a national fundraising campaign to support aid organizations, including the Olena-Zelenska Foundation, named after the Ukrainian president’s wife. These organizations come to the aid of the population in order to provide medical and humanitarian aid. The objective of the Canadian tour is to raise a sum of 5 million.


The Tricornby Manuel de Falla, performed by the National Ballet of Ukraine

The troupe will first present extracts of traditional Ukrainian dances to music by Ukrainian composers. “It’s a bit folkloric, but we wanted to integrate this aspect into our show because it’s part of our culture,” she tells us. Then, the company will present excerpts from three classic ballets: The Corsair, Giselle And Don Quixote.

“It’s a fairly technical classical dance program,” says Natalia Matsak, who is also part of the cast. This is the first time we’ve done such a long tour in Canada, even though we’ve already been here three times before, so we want to show the full extent of our dancers’ talent through the program we’ve chosen. »

January 15 and 16 at the Grand Théâtre de Québec. From January 17 to 19 at the St-Denis Theater in Montreal. Then on tour to Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.


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