Joy Womack became the first American to graduate from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. She created a dream existence for herself in Russia’s notoriously challenging world of classical dancing.
But when the first bombs from Moscow fell on Ukraine, her career—which had been the subject of a Hollywood movie—exploded, and she joined the dozens of dancers who fled Vladimir Putin’s war.
“I wept because I would no longer know what came next. And that practically seemed like the end of my career, Womack told AFP in California.
The Texan was in Poland putting the finishing touches on “Joika” as Russian soldiers entered Ukraine in February.
The Diane Kruger-led movie chronicles Womack’s journey from arriving in Moscow at 15 without knowing a word of Russian to landing the central part in the Kremlin Ballet.
Womack realized right away that she had to leave Russia and her possessions, friends, and the years of dedication that had allowed her to flourish in one of the most competitive ballet settings in the world.
“In Russia, I was constructing a future. As an American dancer who works in Russia, I attempted to walk both lines.
“My education and professional experience in Russia also paved the way for a global career in the West. So it’s complicated for me to say goodbye to it,” she says, pulling off her shoes to reveal feet scarred by her trade.
Before Putin authorized a mass mobilization of 300,000 people to support his faltering war effort, dozens of international and local dancers had already left Russia out of dread of being summoned to the frontlines.
Ilya Jivoy claims that even without a call-up, the drumbeat of battle was suffocating the cultural venues.
Jivoy, a 26-year St. Petersburg resident with an outstanding job, emigrated to Ukraine with his wife just as the war broke out.
He is still confident it was the right choice even though they had no idea what to do or where to go.
Since it all began, “we couldn’t function normally,” he claims.
“I believe it may be impossible to operate in Russia’s culture sector now.
“The art is not the focus. It just involves despair and dread.”
Womack and Jivoy, currently refugees in the United States, are aware of their relative good fortune in being able to do so.
Womack stated, “I used to work with a lovely partner last year.
“Papers were served to him. He is not in the military and is towards the conclusion of his career as a ballet dancer.”
Several exiled dancers have recently reconnected with former colleagues on the Russian stage for a single performance close to Los Angeles next month.
“Reunited in Dance” will take place at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, a cutting-edge cultural hub in Costa Mesa.
During the one-night-only performance, choreography will be displayed, and some of the repertoire has wowed Moscow audiences.
Xander Parish, a Briton who spent 12 years living and working in Moscow, notably at the Mariinsky Theater, is the show’s artistic director.
Parish, who received her training at the Royal Ballet in London, describes the emotional toll that these dancers have had to undergo their uprooting.
“The theatre adopts you as a member. Working so closely together, you get to know these folks very well via your dancing and professional relationships. Like your parents, your coaches, “said he.
The cast speaks in Russian and English as they debate how each minute of the show should flow during the rehearsals that AFP saw.
Parish believes that the performance on November 12 may serve as a launchpad for something bigger: a more permanent ballet company that would have room for these artists in exile.
“It will take a while to resolve it. However, if we could create it in the future, that would be my dream, “he claims.
These are the earliest foundational actions that bind us together.Ballet Stars Who Left Russia’s Ukraine War Meet in the US, “Reunited in Dance”