The blue-and-yellow flags have been folded and put away, for the most part. When Vladimir Putin shocked the world by invading the independent nation of Ukraine on Feb. 24, outrage and anger erupted like bile in the mouths of millions. Americans rallied to the cause with fundraising, supplies, and a host of other humanitarian efforts to aid the besieged Ukrainians. The country’s flag seemed to be waving wherever you turned.
But now that the Russian president’s plans for overnight conquest have dragged into their seventh month as Putin grossly underestimated Ukraine’s resolve, it is our nature to shift focus to the next big talking point. Inflation. The Queen. Immigrant bus tours to Martha’s Vineyard.
Easy for us. But what if you’re 21-year-old dancer Danyil Podhrushko, performing with the Kyiv City Ballet at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Music Hall Center, displaced from your native land since the onslaught began and anguishing every day over the safety and health of your family and friends? Imagine being 21 years old, a stranger in a strange land, wondering when — or if — you can ever go home again?
“I am very upset,” Danyil says, speaking through an interpreter. “I don’t understand how something like this can be happening in the 21st century. I am so sad that my family and friends, as well as other Ukrainians, are suffering as a result of this war.”
The 40-plus member entourage representing their nation’s capital had no intention of performing in America, much less Detroit. As timing would have it, they left Ukraine for a long-awaited European tour beginning in Paris; the next day, the first Russian bombs exploded upon their homeland.
They haven’t been back since.
Joining the nearly 14 million displaced Ukrainians estimated by Reuters (along with 29,587 killed and almost 53,000 injured), the dancers at least have had the opportunity to repay kindness with their art. After performing and sheltering in France for several months, then in Great Britain for several more, the troupe has come to the U.S. for the first time on a nationwide tour that features a special ensemble piece entitled “Tribute to Peace” — so special that Music Hall and Detroit Opera have joined forces to produce the show on Music Hall’s Main Stage, with all proceeds going to humanitarian relief for displaced Ukrainians.
Once the details became clear, supporting Kyiv City was something of a no-brainer. “The nonprofit presenters across America, we kind of know each other,” says Vince Paul, Music Hall president and artistic director, who got a call from Jon Teeuwissen, the Detroit Opera artistic director for dance.
“He said, ‘Have you heard about Kyiv City Ballet? They’re stranded and they’re putting together a tour. Do you want to participate?’” Paul recalls. “We began making calls and were able to create two months of touring for them.”
All revenue from the performance will be dedicated to Real Help for Ukraine, a global, non-sectarian volunteer organization providing emergency food assistance, medical supplies, orphanages, refugee shelters, and other vital resources in-country. “They’re a very cool charity,” says Paul, noting that it has a chapter in Detroit. “One thing they do I really dig is, they pay for Airbnb accommodations in countries surrounding Ukraine for displaced people. You can track that and see exactly what they did with your donations.”
Of course, the tour also means another two months out of their country for Danyil and the other members of the company.
“I am in constant communication with my family and friends,” says Danyil, as is true for many of the dancers. “They say there are sirens often, and that it is difficult. One of my friends who is in the army has been injured.
“Of course, everyone misses their loved ones and home. But from here we can help our family and friends more. Personally, I would really like to see my relatives as soon as possible.”
While the dance “Tribute to Peace” was created to symbolize the resistance and hope of Ukraine’s beleaguered people, the company’s other performance pieces, like the repertoire movements “Classical Suite” and “Men of Kyiv,” were designed to induce a different emotion. “Touring the States for the first time with a range of ballets makes an important global statement,” says Kyiv City artistic director Ivan Kozlov, who founded the ballet in 2012. “Our mission is to bring joy.”
While Paul says Music Hall and Detroit Opera have worked together before since they share audiences, the opportunity to house Kyiv City and provide the dancers with a performance opportunity here while contributing to relief efforts became “a love story. Normally we take up to a year and a half to schedule a dance company,” he says. “We did this in three months.
“I was reading a National Geographic feed that said Putin is targeting Ukrainian culture,” Paul muses. “Like there’s no such thing, it’s all Russian culture. Well, they’ll be doing a Ukrainian folk dance here. They do have their own culture, and Putin wants to eradicate it? I can’t put up with that. What’s more, Ukraine is going to join NATO. They’re going to be like an ally, and we need to know our friends. This will be the most pleasant two hours of education, of learning somebody else’s culture, that you’ll ever have.”
The response so far suggests Music Hall and Detroit Opera were not taking a substantial risk. “It’s selling tickets,” says Paul. “People are coming. I knew they would. Detroit has always been first in line to lend a helping hand when people are in trouble, and this fundraising performance will show it.”
It will also give the dancers, like Danyil, a few hours to escape the horrors of their homeland. “I concentrate on my work when I am on stage,” he says. “I think about the role I am performing. Dance helps distract me.”
Kyiv City Ballet starts at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 27 at Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts; 350 Madison Ave., Detroit; 313-887-8501; musichall.org. Tickets range from $30-$75.