Grand Kyiv Ballet to Bring War-torn Nation’s Culture to Valley

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Grand Kyiv Ballet is keeping the culture of Ukraine alive despite a war that has devastated that country for two years.

Unable to return to its homeland, the renowned troupe is touring the United States and spreading awareness and hope in the process.

The Grand Kyiv Ballet will come to Powers Auditorium on March 28 to perform “Giselle.”

“This tour is very important for us and for the Ukrainian people and its culture,” Oleksandr Stoianov, founder, artistic director and principal dancer, said in a phone interview. “It’s a difficult time for Ukrainian culture. [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin tried to destroy our city, but he never destroyed our ballet and our culture.”

About 10% of the audience at each show has been Ukrainians who fled to this country after the war broke out, Stoianov said.

The rest are Americans, whose interest undoubtedly has been piqued because of the war. The Grand Kyiv Ballet understands that it has become an unofficial wartime ambassador to the American people and embraces the role. While “Giselle” is a beloved classical ballet, the performance “is also about our strong, beautiful culture,” Stoianov said.

A portion of the proceeds from each show are sent to Ukraine to fund the renovation of the Kyiv State Choreographic College. By buying a ticket, patrons are contributing to the preservation of this cultural institution.

While Russian bombs have not damaged the Grand Kyiv Ballet’s facility, Stoianov said a theater in the eastern Ukraine city of Mariupol was destroyed in the early days of the war.

Stoianov’s wife, Kateryna Kukhar, is also a principal dancer in “Giselle” and an instructor. The couple has been making their home in Seattle since the war’s outbreak, where they are raising their two children.

They were both far from home in February 2022 when the conflict began.

Kukhar was in Berlin at a competition with her students from the Kyiv State Ballet College, while Stoianov was in France, preparing for a performance.

They had rehearsed “Giselle” together just prior to parting ways and had planned to return to Kiev as soon as possible.

After learning that Ukraine was being invaded, the couple – with the help of friends and family – worked frantically to evacuate their children.

But some of their relatives were unable to flee, and Kukhar’s parents chose to remain in Kiev.

Approximately 300 ballet dancers were also able to leave Ukraine, and Stoianov has started four ballet companies to provide work for them. The troupe coming to Youngstown is one of the four companies.

The story of “Giselle” has parallels to the plight of Ukraine. It has themes of betrayal and revenge but is ultimately a tale of love and renewal.

Its central figure is Giselle, a frail, young peasant girl who loves to dance. Her beauty has attracted the philandering Count Albrecht, who wins her affection by pledging eternal love. However, he is already engaged to another woman.

When Giselle learns the truth, she loses her sanity and dies. Her spirit becomes a wili – an apparition of a woman who has been betrayed – and she haunts the forest at night.

A remorseful Albrecht comes to visit Giselle’s grave. She still loves him and protects him from the other wilis until dawn, when they return to their graves.

“The ballet ‘Giselle,’ for Ukrainian people, is like hope for the future, because at the end there is a sunrise,” Stoianov said. “It’s a very strong symbol for all Ukrainian people about the future and our children.”

Kukhar underscores that theme.

“When the sun rises, all darkness will disappear and peace will come to Ukraine,” she said.

The performances have elicited some strong reactions. Spectators occasionally come backstage in tears.

“Yesterday I met a girl [from Armenia] who has lived in the United States for seven years,” Kukhar said. “She was crying, and she brought a small toy for my daughter. “

Seeing the Grand Kyiv Ballet perform had been her dream, but she never thought it would be a war that would make it come true.

“She said that 10 years ago when everything was good, we thought the pandemic was the worst thing that would ever happen,” Kukhar said. “She appreciated our coming here and sharing our culture. And it touched our soul.”

Tickets for the Powers Auditorium performance range from $63 to $33 and can be purchased in advance at the DeYor Performing Arts Center box office, downtown; by phone at 330 259 9651; and online at

The performance will start at 7 p.m.

Pictured at top: Kateryna Kukhar and Oleksandr Stoianov dance in a scene from “Giselle.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.