At the American Ballet Theatre, a star choreographer linked to Russia and Ukraine treats war with his art

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The conflict is personal for him. Ratmansky was born in Leningrad – now St. Petersburg – in 1968. His family moved to Kyiv, Ukraine when he was a toddler. During a visit to Moscow at the age of 10, he learned that the famous Bolshoi Ballet Academy was holding auditions. He auditioned and entered. As a young man, he danced for the National Ballet of Ukraine.

After stays in Canada and Denmark, he returned to Moscow in 2004 to direct the Bolshoi Ballet. At the time, Ratmansky was only 35 years old. “They said I was the youngest in Bolshoi history,” he said. “It was pretty crazy.”

The war is therefore between his homeland and the country where he grew up as an artist.

It wasn’t just Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of its western neighbor that stunned Ratmansky; he is also disappointed with the lack of perspective in Russia. “On February 24, I was 100% sure that millions of Russians would take to the streets and everything would stop. And that didn’t happen. It’s pretty awful,” he said. The conflict is particularly painful in part because her parents and in-laws are in Kyiv. “They are between 80 and 90 years old and they cannot leave,” he explained.

He interviewed artists who did not disown Putin. “I can’t imagine how I would maintain all relations with Russian companies that receive state money,” he said. “It’s unimaginable.”

For Ratmansky, there was an unexpected result of the conflict: it gave him a sense of belonging. “Actually, I never had [that],” he said. “I was the boy from Kyiv when I was studying in Moscow. When I was dancing in Kyiv, I was Moscow’s foreigner. Maybe New York is the only place where nobody cares where you’re from. All you have to do is deliver. And that’s the beauty of New York and America.

Ratmansky moved to the City in 2009, after leaving the Bolshoi. While the company’s overseas tours were celebrated, the changes he made sparked irritation in some quarters in Russia. He introduced American choreographers like Twyla Tharp into the company’s repertoire and promoted young dancers, which did not sit well with the old guard.

A few years into his tenure at the Bolshoi, Ratmansky choreographed “Russian Seasons” for the New York City Ballet. When it premiered in 2006 at the New York State Theater, it caused a stir. “The dancers who worked with him were transformed,” Harss said. “He took them to a whole new level.”

She said it was the product of both demanding choreography and the way he interacted with the dancers: “He works with them a bit like an acting coach.”

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