Ballet dancers who fled Russia reunite on California stage

By Rollo Ross

COSTA MESA, Calif. (Reuters) - Xander Parish is a British-born ballet dancer who was a principal dancer at the Mariinsky Ballet in St Petersburg, Russia.

Then, in February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. Within a month, Parish had left. Other international dancers based in Russia also fled, leaving behind their lives, jobs and belongings.

Now, for one night, the dancers from the Mariinsky, the Bolshoi and other elite Russian companies are reuniting with a performance on Saturday in Costa Mesa, California.

"Each of us here in this group has an absolutely unique story, but tied together by a thread through this shared experience of leaving Russia and having had what we loved there... but now coming back together. It's like a full circle," Parish told Reuters.

American Adrian Blake Mitchell and his Slovakian girlfriend Andrea Lassakova, both formerly dancers with the Mikhailovsky Ballet, also fled Moscow shortly after the invasion. Mitchell said they found themselves in "extremely uncomfortable and worrisome circumstances." He declined to elaborate.

The shared experiences of the artists will be tangible when they dance together, Mitchell said.

"The group of dancers, it's just so special, you know. Not a lot of projects have been done like this under these circumstances so that brings such a new layer to it and makes it so much more emotional and so much more meaningful and impactful," he said.

Christine Shevchenko is with the American Ballet Theatre and based in the United States, but she was born in Odesa, Ukraine, and said it was important for her to be part of the production.

"I've always been a true believer that the arts, whether it's ballet or opera or music, always brings people together," Shevchenko said.

Although the corps de ballet will be together only for one night's performance, Parish already has plans for them to do more.

"We sold out in 10 days which is really fantastic so we're suddenly looking at developing this project and bringing in more repertoire and expanding what we can perform together and showing what we love to more people with more performances in the future," he said.

"Reunited in Dance" will be performed at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. The venue is inviting a separate audience to watch the show for free via a livestream outside the building.

(Reporting by Rollo Ross; Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Leslie Adler)