You’d never expect three 19th-century icons of classical ballet perfection to intersect with a 21st-century war and lethal international politics, but that’s exactly the crossroads where the Kyiv City Ballet of Ukraine found themselves with Russia’s brutal attack the day after the company had landed in Paris for performances. Unknowingly escaping disaster, the company had taken one of the last flights out of Kyiv and found themselves in exile from their homeland. They have not been able to return since.
All of the company’s sets, costumes, technical equipment, and other properties necessary for extended touring remained inaccessible in Ukraine. The company had been in exile in France for nine months when Rich Regan, executive director of Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre, read an article about the Kyiv City Ballet being stranded in Paris. Their compelling story grabbed him immediately.
“I did some research,” Regan said. “and eventually found the agency that was representing them, and I asked them what they were doing.” The answer was, they didn’t know. Their visit to Paris was to be “ a run-out,” Regan said, meaning a quick in and out, expecting to return to Ukraine and regroup for a more extensive tour.
“All of the company’s assets were in Kyiv,” Regan explained, “—all their marketing, publicity, programs, sets, costumes, technical theater equipment, lighting plots—everything!” The future of the company’s survival, their very lives, were totally up for grabs. Cut off from their families, without work, without a home, without bookings for the foreseeable future, circumstances were dire.
“I said to them, ‘Why not tour the U.S.?” The company’s artistic director, Ivan Kozlov and deputy director Ekaterina Kozlova were receptive to the idea, but didn’t have the administrative or financial resources to make it happen.
Regan reached out to Chicago’s Ukrainian Counsel General and explained the situation and asked how the consulate could help. “We’ll help you get what they need through Poland,” Counsel General Koledov Serhiy said. Regan put him in touch with the agent for the Kyiv City Ballet, and all the company’s assets were brought out of Ukraine into Poland, from where they were shipped to the United States.
It was challenging for Regan to pivot on such short notice to make room in the Auditorium Theatre’s already-booked 2022-23 season. “It wasn’t just a matter of finding a place on the calendar for them,” Regan said, “but how would the timeline allow for access to all the public relations and marketing assets from the company, and to reorient our entire season from a humanitarian standpoint.”
Initially, France sheltered the company, and helped the them set up a tour of France and Europe after the invasion began. Now, thanks to the initiative of Rich Regan, the company will launch its first-ever tour of the United States, visiting only 15 U.S. cities this fall, with a rare appearance in Chicago.
Regan’s leadership and determination to use the performances as an opportunity to generate humanitarian aid led him to two different organizations, “Operation White Stork,” which provides rapid response humanitarian aid to refugees, and Chicago’s Polsky Foundation, based in Chicago and administered by Michael and Tanya Polsky. “They are supporting us and helping us understand the impact on the Ukranian community as no one else can,” Regan said. “We know the money is going directly toward humanitarian aid.”
Regan was also instrumental navigating the “impossible bureaucracy” of getting visas and travel documentation for company members to come to the U.S. “The U.S. Consulate was backed up on travel visas and couldn’t deliver them."
Regan wouldn’t give up. He reached out to Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin. “I need your office to intercede,” Regan told him. Durbin’s office was of incredible help," Regan said. “The company had their travel visas the next day!”
The Kyiv City Ballet of Ukraine is poised to make a rare Chicago appearance on its first ever U.S. tour this Saturday, September 24 at 7:30 PM and Sunday, September 25 at 3 PM at The Auditorium Theatre. The company will present three works.
Three iconic classical pas de deux from the 19th century comprise one third of the tour repertoire. Don Quixote, La Bayadere, and Paquita showcase the exquisite beauty of these time-honored ballets as well as their world-class performers.
Artistic director Ivan Kozlov revised the tour’s program to reflect the global threat Putin's attack of Ukraine represents, with two contemporary ballets.
Kozlov’s Tribute to Peace, created especially for the U.S. tour to a score by Elgar, explores an idyllic vision of what life could be like without conflict, anger, or despair.
Completing the program is company dancer Vladyslav Dobshynsyi’s Thoughts, to a score by Nils Frahm, Burkard Dallwitz, Max Richter, and Lisa Gerrard & Patrick Cassidy.
Ticket buyers are invited to support the Ukranian war relief via donation to the Chicago-based Operation White Stork.
For tickets, and additional information, please go to SeeChicagoDance.com, by calling 312-341-2300, or at AuditoriumTheatre.org.