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Russian ballerina Olga Smirnova quits Bolshoi

March 17, 2022

The Bolshoi's prima ballerina, Olga Smirnova, will join the Dutch National Ballet after her criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She is the biggest Russian star to quit over the war.

Olga Smirnova prepares for Golden Mask National Theatre Awards ceremony
Bolshoi prima ballerina Olga Smirnova has been critical of Russia's invasion of UkraineImage: Mikhail Tereshchenko/TASS/imago images

Russian prima ballerina Olga Smirnova has quit Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre to join the Dutch National Ballet, the Netherlands-based organization announced on Wednesday. 

"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," Dutch National Ballet Director Ted Brandsen said in a statement.

The 30-year-old had been critical of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and took to Telegram earlier this month to say she was "against war with all the fibers of my soul."

"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," she wrote in the post published earlier this month.

Smirnova's departure from the most prestigious cultural institution in Russia makes her the biggest star to leave the country over the war in Ukraine.

Olga Smirnova as Margarita C during rehearsal of adaptation of Master and Margarita
The 30-year-old has become the biggest star to leave Russia over the war in UkraineImage: Vladimir Gerdo/TASS/imago images

"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, who left Russia earlier this month, is currently in the Netherlands. She said she was considering a move even before violence broke out and that the Dutch National Ballet would be "a good fit."

Several Russian cultural icons, including star conductor Valery Gergiev and soprano Anna Netrebko, have refused to criticize the offensive on Ukraine and lost out on jobs in the West.


Are cultural boycotts constructive?

see/msh (AFP, Reuters)