Russian prima ballerina Olga Smirnova, a critic of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has quit the Bolshoi Ballet company in Moscow and will join the Dutch National Ballet, the Dutch organisation has said.
“It is a privilege to have her dance with our company in the Netherlands – even if the circumstances that drove this move are incredibly sad,” said Dutch National Ballet Director Ted Brandsen in a statement on Wednesday.
Smirnova, 30, considered one of the greatest dancers of her generation, had already expressed her opposition to the war on messaging app Telegram earlier this month.
“I never thought I would be ashamed of Russia, I have always been proud of talented Russian people, of our cultural and athletic achievements,” she wrote. “But now I feel that a line has been drawn.”
Smirnova is now physically in the Netherlands, a spokesperson for the ballet confirmed.
“It is not only about every other Russian perhaps having relatives or friends living in Ukraine, or about my grandfather being Ukrainian … It is that we continue to live as if this were the 20th century,” the ballerina said.
Several foreign performers have quit their positions in Russia since the invasion, but Smirnova is by far the biggest local star to leave.
At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union suffered a number of embarrassing defections by high-profile performers, most notably the legendary dancer Rudolph Nureyev, who claimed asylum during a visit by the Kirov Ballet to Paris in 1961.
Many current stars of the Russian stage have refused to criticise the invasion of Ukraine, including eminent conductor Valery Gergiev and soprano Anna Netrebko, and have been stripped of their jobs in the West or had tours cancelled.
Brazilian dancer Victor Caixeta, 22, who had spent five years at the Mariinsky Ballet in St Petersburg, is also joining the Amsterdam-based company.