Japanese ballet company hires Ukrainian dancer fleeing invasion

Mie Nagasawa, center left, and her husband Evgeni Petrenko star together in ‘Sleeping Beauty’. (C) Alexander Putrov

TOKOROZAWA, Saitama — The NBA Ballet Company in this city north of Tokyo has decided to hire Ukrainian ballet dancer Evgeni Petrenko, who came to Japan after narrowly escaping the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

There are reports that even artists are taking up arms to serve in the war in Ukraine, and Koichi Kubo, the company’s art director, made the decision quickly “as part of support.”

Petrenko, 28, grew up in kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and is a member of the Kyiv Classic Ballet. His wife Mie Nagasawa is also a ballet dancer and the two came to Japan with their one-year-old son. “I didn’t think I would end up looking for a job overseas, but I’m full of gratitude to everyone in Japan. I’d like to dance to show the spirit of my home country, which is fighting for freedom,” he said. .

Mie Nagasawa and her husband perform together the “Tango” choreographed by Artem Chigvintsev. (C) Alexander Putrov

From the beginning of February, while the couple was on tour in Europe, Japanese embassy officials repeatedly recommended that they evacuate. They came to Japan on February 13 to leave their son in the care of Nagasawa parents residing in Saitama Prefecture. Although the pair originally planned to return to Kyiv, their schedule was canceled when Russia began invading Ukraine on February 24.

Nagasawa said, “I was only going to evacuate my child in case something happened.” But Petrenko explained: “The relationship with Russia has always been tense, even in a historical sense. Somewhere in my mind, I knew anything could happen.” Although he left behind household goods and other possessions in Ukraine, Petrenko chose to settle and perform in his wife’s native country.

He described Ukraine as having an “artistic spirit”. Two years ago, when theaters were temporarily closed due to the spread of the coronavirus, Ukrainians yearned for them to reopen. The couple, who have been dedicated to dancing since childhood, said they thought the situation couldn’t get any worse after pandemic restrictions were imposed, but realized they were wrong.

Husband and wife Evgeni Petrenko, left, and Mie Nagasawa, who were evacuated from Kyiv, are seen at the NBA Ballet Company in Tokorozawa city, Saitama prefecture on March 28, 2022. (Mainichi/Kishiko Saito)

Petrenko says that as much as they pursue art, Ukrainians seek freedom and are ready to fight to protect their homeland. He showed a picture of the military organization of Ukrainian Cossacks on his smartphone and said, “Our thoughts are similar to samurai. They are also similar, aren’t they?”

But unlike Ukraine, art is considered “non-essential and non-urgent” in Japan under the pandemic and receives little public support. Although it is difficult for Petrenko to become a freelance dancer here, he remains hopeful after “painfully realizing the happiness of being able to dance”.

Nagasawa is in the same ballet company as her husband and performed for many years as a principal dancer, the highest dancer. As a teenager, she studied abroad at the prestigious Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia. After working for the Donetsk Ballet company in Ukraine, she moved to kyiv.

This screenshot from Donetsk Ballet’s social media account shows ballet dancers forming the letter “Z” in an image shared online.

Russia recognized a separatist region in Donetsk as independent on February 21, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration pushed propaganda to boost national prestige, having ballet dancers form the letter ‘Z’, symbolizing separation , and “V” for victory, and share these photos on social networks.

Nagasawa expressed shock at the development, saying, “I have a lot of friends in Russia and Donetsk, and I always contact them. I can’t believe the ballet is being used politically like this. , separating my friends.” His only wish is to see “peace returned (in Ukraine) and a world where everyone can appreciate art from the bottom of their hearts”.

Petrenko will appear in “Little Mermaid,” choreographed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, at Marquee Hall at the Tokorozawa Civic Cultural Center on May 28. For all inquiries regarding the show, contact the center at 04-2998-7777 (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Kishiko Saito, Cultural News Department)