NAPLES, Italy (AP) — A Ukrainian ballerina who fled the war in her homeland and a Russian ballerina who quit the Bolshoi Ballet over the Russian invasion rehearsed on a stage in Naples ahead of a sold-out benefit performance Monday night to raise funds for the Red Cross and champion the cause of peace in Ukraine.
Naples’ San Carlo Theater billed the event “Stand with Ukraine — Ballet for Peace.”
Despite that description, the prospect of Russian dancers dancing on the same stage with Ukrainians reportedly angered Ukraine’s consul in Naples. The Italian daily La Repubblica quoted the consul as telling fellow Ukrainians in the southern Italian city to shun the performance.
Among the stars in the event is prima ballerina Olga Smirnova, who quit the Bolshoi last month and is now dancing with the Dutch National Ballet. Another headliner is Anastasia Gurskaya, a top ballerina in Kyiv’s Opera, who fled the fighting in Ukraine.
“I think it’s important in this situation, in this time, to be together on the stage. To do little things, the smallest things, what we can do for Ukraine,“ Smirnova told reporters in the theater ahead of the final rehearsal. ”This is the main goal for all of us. That’s why we are here, that’s why we are dancing tonight.”
Fellow prima ballerina Gurskaya said her performance is one way to help Ukraine.
“My life is upside down now. And I’ve never been in Italy in this city, and I’ve never danced with stars like today, with world ballet stars, and I am so excited about it. And I don’t know why this happened to me,” the Ukrainian dancer told The Associated Press. “I am really happy I am here and I can help and support my country with my dancing today."
The theater's artistic director, Alessio Carbone, hailed Smirnova's participation.
“Olga is a very strong image for us, because obviously she was the first dancer who publicly opposed the (Putin) regime. So to have her with us tonight is an inspiration of courage,” Carbone said.
No one responded to telephone calls Monday at Ukraine's consulate in Naples. Calls to the mayor's press office went unanswered.
About a dozen protesters, some holding Ukrainian flags, demonstrated outside the theater before the event to show discontent over the participation of Russian dancers.
Before the rehearsal, one of the Ukrainian dancers spoke about a small town near Kyiv where the chilling discoveries of civilian bodies have emerged.
According to Ukraine’s prosecutor-general, the bodies of 410 civilians have been removed from Kyiv-area towns that were recently retaken from Russian forces. Associated Press journalists saw the bodies of at least 21 people around Bucha, northwest of the capital.
Stanislav Olshanskyi, who has danced at the Kyiv Opera House since 2018, says he had lived in Bucha for five years.
“It’s my city. I know this city, I walked in the streets,” he told the AP. "These photos ... it’s horrible. I can’t think about this, it’s like it’s not in this world, it can’t be true. But I know it’s true and we’ll never forgive this.”
Frances D'Emilio reported from Rome.
Follow all AP stories about the Russian invasion of Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.