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Dancing for democracy: National Ballet of Ukraine performs in Montreal

Click to play video: 'How the National Ballet of Ukraine’s Canadian tour is about more than dance'
How the National Ballet of Ukraine’s Canadian tour is about more than dance
WATCH: How the National Ballet of Ukraine’s Canadian tour is about more than dance. – Jan 18, 2024

The National Ballet of Ukraine has kicked off its Canadian tour. Out of the 20 performances across the country, Montreal is lucky to play host to three of them at Espace Saint-Denis Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Ranked one of the world’s best ballet companies, the shows are not only phenomenal art, but in the midst of war, they are also an effort to guard what’s most precious to Ukraine: peace.

It’s precisely where the title of the show comes from: Nadiya Ukraine, or Hope for Ukraine. Through it, dancers bring to life excerpts of classic ballets such as Le Corsaire and Don Quixote while also incorporating traditional Ukrainian dances.

As they warmed up their bodies for their performance on Wednesday, dancers also prepared to warm the audience’s hearts for a cause that is close to theirs.

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“When we’re here, we have the opportunity to show we’re still alive, our culture is still alive and we have a great history,” principal dancer Sergiy Kryvokon said.

Their movements and pirouettes are light but they carry the weight of what’s happening at home.

The National Ballet of Ukraine is kicking off its Canadian tour in Montreal. Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. Gloria Henriquez/Global News

As war rages, the lives of those they love are hanging in the balance.

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“It’s hard,” said Nataliia Matsak, a principal dancer. “It’s terrible. Because a lot of people die every day.”

They are used to performing across the world, but bringing their act on the road this time feels like an act of defiance.

Ukraine has accused Russia of targeting museums and theatres in an effort to erase its culture.

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“When you keep in touch with culture, when you see what exactly we’re trying to preserve, you realize why support for Ukraine is so important,” said Mykyta Sukhorukov, principal dancer.

The dancers are also raising funds to send back to Ukraine. The money goes toward relief efforts by the Olena Zelenska Foundation, which include keeping schools open. Zelenska is the wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Eventually, they hope it will go toward rebuilding what’s been lost.

“The Ukrainian community across Canada has been behind us 100 per cent. They know what’s at stake,” said David Meffe, Canada’s head of development at HUMANITE Peace Collective, the non-profit collecting funds.

The Montreal Ukrainian community greeted the dancers warmly at the airport.

Some of those who waited hours to welcome the artists are part of a local group of dancers who are also performing in the Montreal shows.

Every stop brings a local group into the fold.

Another group of Ukrainian refugees will attend one of their shows.

“It’s a terribly difficult time for Ukraine and this is like a flower in the winter, a gem that you see, a breath of fresh air and some sunlight,” said Michael Schwek, the president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in Quebec.

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A ray of light through art and unshakeable hope for a peaceful future.

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