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Alexei Ratmansky: Russian cultural figures must oppose war in Ukraine | Ballet

Russian artists and performers must not stay silent about the war, according to one of the world’s leading ballet choreographers, Alexei Ratmansky.

The Russian-born former artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, who left a new production in Moscow on news of the invasion, was responding to Mikhail Baryshnikov’s call not to punish cultural and sporting figures for failing to stand up to Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Speaking to the Observer on 20 March , Baryshnikov, the actor and ballet star, launched a fundraising drive to support Ukraine. But he also said Russian stars who do not speak out should not be targeted by the west. In contrast, Ratmansky, an admirer and friend of Baryshnikov , believes there is no excuse for not actively opposing the war.

Posting on Facebook, the choreographer said he found it “hard to agree with Misha”. He pointed out that in 2014 more than 500 well-known Russian figures in the arts, including major ballet personalities, signed a letter of support for Putin’s annexation of Crimea.

“After this letter,” Ratmansky wrote, “every performance or any public action of these 500 could be seen as an act of propaganda. Especially those who have gone on to perform in the west. These people have made a strong political statement supporting their The president’s unlawful actions. They are playing politics and therefore should be held responsible or at least asked serious questions.

“It is precisely because of the support of the most visible figures of Russian culture that Putin gained his unlimited power and now is using it against humanity in this bloody war that is destroying Ukraine.”

The choreographer, who grew up in Ukraine and has family in Kyiv, said there were dancers in Moscow who must realise that Russia is bombing cities and so should be held to account.

Ratmansky added: “It’s humiliating to think that dancers should only dance and concentrate on their art, ignoring what’s going on around them. It’s not only pretty legs they possess, they also have brains and hearts.

“The mass murder of innocent people in Ukraine is done in their name also, in the name of Great Russia of Culture that was so admired by the whole world until very recently.”

Dancers from the American Ballet Theater perform Bernstein in Bubble, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky. Photograph: MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty Images

Ratmanksy, who has a new job with the American Ballet Theater, premiered his ballet The Seasons in San Francisco this month and unfurled a Ukrainian flag over the stage. He is now in Munich preparing another opening night.

Putin spoke out on Friday against the “cancellation” of Russian stars in Europe, making an unlikely comparison with criticism of the writer JK Rowling from some trans rights campaigners. “Today they are trying to cancel a whole thousand-year culture, our people, he said. “I am talking about the gradual discrimination against everything linked to Russia.”

Nevertheless, a growing number of cultural names in Russia are expressing disgust at the war. Among the best known is Olga Smirnova, a principal soloist at the Bolshoi, who announced 10 days ago she has joined the Dutch National Ballet because of the war in Ukraine .

This weekend the Russian news agency Tass reported that Putin has asked the leading conductor and Kremlin loyalist Valery Gergiev to consider taking over artistic control at both the Bolshoi and its St Petersburg rival, the Mariinsky Ballet, formerly the Kirov. Gergiev, who lost prestigious work in Europe due to his support for Putin, reportedly said it would be a good idea “to coordinate efforts” at the two theatre companies.

But it is not just artistic talent that may be temporarily lost to Russia. Valuable Russian works of art now on show in museums around Europe cannot be sent back to Moscow and St Petersburg because of bans imposed on international flights.

The priceless Morozov collection of European and Russian art left Russia to go on show in Paris only after the personal approval of Putin, reports the Moscow Times. The works, which include masterpieces by Gauguin, Renoir and Cézanne, and Russian paintings by Malevich and Goncharova, belong to the State Hermitage in St Petersburg, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and the State Tretyakov Gallery.

The whole collection was scheduled to open at the Pushkin museum this summer.

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