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Ukrainian ballet troupe bringing ‘Giselle’ to Valley

Ukrainian ballet troupe bringing ‘Giselle’ to Valley

Dance always has been a passion of Kateryna Kukhar and Oleksandr Stoianov. Later it became a profession for the husband-and-wife duo.

Now it is a comfort.

The Ukrainian-born dancers are leading a troupe of their compatriots from Grand Kyiv Ballet on a North American tour that comes to Youngstown’s Powers Auditorium on March 28.

“Russia can destroy our cities, but they never can destroy our culture,” Stoianov said during a Zoom interview last month.

Grand Kyiv Ballet will stage the full-length ballet “Giselle” with 35 dancers ages 7 and older. Kukhar and Stoianov are the company’s principal dancers, and Stoianov also is serving as a booking manager and producer on the tour.

“Kateryna is best Giselle in Ukraine,” he said. “She is not just ballet dancer, she is an actress, and ‘Giselle’ is not just about dance, it is about acting.”

“Giselle,” which made its debut in France in 1841 and features the music of Adolphe Adam, is a tragic love story about a peasant girl who falls in love with a deceitful nobleman.

She dies of a broken heart, and the second act features the spirits of women who suffered similar fates. They get their revenge by dancing philandering men to death.

It is one of the most popular and most produced ballets, and it’s taken on a different meaning since Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago.

“It’s a symbol for Ukraine now because at the end of this performance, it will be sunrise,” Stoianov said. “All Ukraine people hope to have sunrise for our country, for our children. …”

“It is symbol for our future,” Kukhar added. “The sun rise and the dark things disappear.”

The couple feel fortunate to be able to do what they love.

“A dancer without a stage will die,” Kukhar said.

Many of their fellow artists are struggling to survive in homes without electricity or clean water because of the bombings and have had to find other work.

But in some ways the arts have endured, even in a war zone. Performances continue at the National Opera, Stoianov said, although they only can sell 300 of the 1,300 seats because 300 is the capacity of the bomb shelter if sirens go off during a performance.

Children still are taking ballet classes too, Kukhar said, although bomb sirens frequently interrupt the instruction.

They believe it’s important for those efforts to continue in spite of the obstacles.

“For us theater is like a church,” Kukhar said. “You come into the theater with all your problems all of your heavy things on your shoulder, and when you start to listen to classical music, watch beautiful balletic movements, your soul and mind (are) purified and get some air.”

When not on tour, Kukhar and Stoianov are living in Seattle while the fighting continues, but Kukhar went back to perform in Ukraine in December.

“In the worst time, people need more culture,” she said. “It’s necessary for them to have some rest from their thoughts. They can become crazy if you just think about war, war, war.”

Stoianov originally started as a ballroom dancer and won several prizes. A man came to his parents and told them Stoianov had the body to be a ballet dancer. He went to a ballet boarding school that accepted only 10 boys every year in a country of more than 40 million people.

Kukhar had a similar experience. She was on a playground at 5 years old with her grandmother, when a woman approached them and asked her to do some moves. She was invited to go to a gymnastics tryout the following day.

Kukhar said the splits and other moves they wanted her to do were painful, and she begged her parents not to send her back. She was very happy when they suggested ballet instead.

“For little girls — tutu, tiara, I was very excited.”

A portion of the proceeds from the tour of “Giselle” will go toward renovation efforts at Kyiv State Choreographic College, where both dancers studied as well as dancers now performing with major ballet companies around the world.

“All the money from the government now goes to war,” Stoianov said. “That’s why we need to help this college now.”

If you

go …

WHAT: Grand Kyiv Ballet – “Giselle.”

WHEN: 7 p.m. March 28.

WHERE: Powers Auditorium, 260 W. Federal St., Youngstown.

HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $20 to $63 and are available at the DeYor Performing Arts Center box office, online at experienceyourarts.org and by calling 330-259-9651.

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