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Russian Ballerina Leaves Bolshoi, Voices Opposition to War

'I never thought I would be ashamed of Russia,' Olga Smirnov wrote on Telegram


Russia’s oldest classical ballet company lost one of its top dancers as a result of the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Olga Smirnov announced on March 16 that she is leaving the Bolshoi for the Dutch National Ballet. 

Smirnova has openly opposed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On Telegram, she wrote she opposed the war “with all the fibers of my soul” and that one of her grandfathers was Ukrainian.

“I never thought I would be ashamed of Russia, I was always proud of talented Russian people, our cultural and sports achievements. But now the line is drawn on before and after,” the ballerina wrote.

“We may not be at the epicenter of the military conflict, but we cannot remain indifferent to this global catastrophe,” she added.

The 30-year-old also noted that, while the military conflict had expedited her decision, she had been considering leaving the Russian company for some time.

The New York Times said Smirnova’s decision to leave the Bolshoi made her “one of the most significant Russian cultural figures to leave the country because of its invasion of Ukraine.”

An Italian dancer and a Brazilian dancer also ended their work with the Bolshoi last week, citing the conflict with Ukraine, per Euro News.

While some performers have distanced themselves from Russia, other performers have been dismissed from their positions because of ties to the country.

The Met Opera announced in early March that it would no longer work with Russian soprano Anna Netrebko because she would not comply with a request to publicly disavow support for President Vladimir Putin.

Valery Gergiev, the Russian conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, was replaced during scheduled performances in Naples, Italy, over his connections to Putin and for not condemning his actions at the Philharmonic’s request. He was subsequently asked to resign as the music director of an upcoming Swiss music festival.

In a press release, the Dutch National Opera & Ballet noted Smirnova is a fan of their resident choreographer Hans van Manen and “greatly admires ballet master Larissa Lezhnina, who has the same Russian background and training.”

The Dutch National Ballet also said her open opposition to the war had made it “untenable for her to work in her native country.”

According to UPI, “her decision may have been partially influenced by a new Russian law that criminalizes spreading so-called fake news about the war with up to 10 years in prison.”

“Olga Smirnova is an exceptional dancer who I admire very much,” said Ted Brandsen, director of Dutch National Ballet. “It is a privilege to have her dance with our company in the Netherlands — even if the circumstances that drove this move are incredibly sad. Nevertheless, as a company we are pleased to have such an inspiring dancer join us at Dutch National Ballet.”

Smirnov has been with the Moscow company since 2011 and has performed as a principal soloist.

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