LISTENING POST: Ballet during wartime

Grand Kyiv Ballet to give a benefit performance of ‘Giselle’ at Symphony Hall

Photo credit: Courtesy Grand Kyiv Ballet
FLYING FOR UKRAINE: The Grand Kyiv Ballet will perform ‘Giselle’ at the Atlanta Symphony Hall Friday, March 15, with principal dancers Oleksandr Stoianov and Kateryna Kukhar representing their home country in a benefit performance.

Not every professional ballet performance is interrupted by air raid sirens, but that’s show biz in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and the country’s other cities following the Russian invasion in February 2022.

Before the war, nearly every event at the National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater in downtown Kyiv would sell out all 1,300 of the facility’s seats. These days, although Russian missiles and bombs strike the capital less frequently than during the early days of war, seating is limited to 300 people because that’s the capacity of the bomb shelter underneath the cathedral-like, Russian Revival-style theater.

On Friday, March 15, the Grand Kyiv Ballet will perform Giselle at Atlanta’s Symphony Hall. Founded in 2014 by the company’s principal dancers, Oleksandr (“Alex”) Stoianov and his wife Kateryna Kukhar, the Grand Kyiv Ballet performs all over the world, proudly representing their home country in the role of artistic ambassadors.

“When we perform, people learn that Ukrainians are not only a strong and brave people, but also talented with a long history of creating great art,” says Stoianov in a recent telephone interview, which also included Kukhar.

These days, the Grand Kyiv Ballet is based in Seattle, largely thanks to Vera Altunina, artistic director of the International Ballet Academy in Washington. When Stoianov and Kukhar decided not to return to their homeland until the war’s end, primarily to ensure the health and welfare of their two children, Altunina helped to arrange safe harbor for the family.

DANCERS IN EXILE:Grand Kyiv Ballet founder Oleksandr Stoianov and his wife, Kateryna Kukhar, the company’s principal ballerina, are now based in Seattle, Washington, after fleeing Ukraine when Russia invaded the country in 2022. PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy Grand Kyiv Ballet

Both Stoianov and Kukhar are graduates of the renowned Kyiv State Choreographic College where the latter still serves as director, a position which requires periodic travel to Kyiv. During a visit in December 2023, Kukhar was twenty minutes into a performance of Forest Song, a beloved Ukrainian ballet that premiered in 1946, when an air raid warning sounded.

“All the patrons, musicians and dancers had to go down to [the] bomb shelter and sit for more than one hour,” Stoianov remembers. “After this, they go upstairs and start to dance again. This is Ukrainian reality. It’s crazy.”

Soon after the outbreak of war, most of Stoianov and Kukhar’s relatives were able to successfully evacuate from Ukraine, a group which did not include Kukhar’s parents. “It’s difficult for old people to change everything, leave their country, learn a new language and start a new life,” Kukhar explains. “They say, ‘I am going die in my home.’”

When the Russians invaded Ukraine, the Grand Kyiv Ballet was touring Giselle in Europe and Scandinavian countries. The current tour of the French classic includes stops in 60 American cities. A portion of proceeds from the U.S. performances will go towards renovating bomb damage to the Kyiv State Choreographic College facilities.

First performed in Paris in 1841 with Italian ballerina Carlotta Grisi in the title role, Giselle is one of the world’s most popular ballets. The ballet recounts the ill-fated romantic saga of a frail but lively young lady whose betrayal by boyfriend Albrecht leads to madness and, ultimately, her death. In the afterlife, Giselle is transformed into a malevolent spirit known as a Wilis. Like a female version of the Hells Angels, the Wilis, led by Myrtha, roam the forest, seeking lethal revenge on any male unlucky enough to cross their path. In Giselle, the protagonist transcends the boundaries of this murderous myth by preventing Albrecht from suffering the pre-ordained punishment of death by dancing.

Stoianov and Kukhar see ballet as a means of giving an audience an outlet for emotional anxiety and a respite from strife caused by war. To them, Giselle represents a dark, but nevertheless redeeming and triumphal, fantasy.

“Giselle never became a true Willis,” Kukhar notes. “She doesn’t fall under the cold-hearted Myrtha’s command thanks to the way Hans (a rival lover) cares for her. He deliberately puts a cross over Giselle’s grave, allowing her soul to find peace and not dissolve among the hundreds of Wilis. That’s why Giselle is capable of forgiveness.”

From a technical and artistic perspective, Kukhar interprets Giselle with extremely focused intensity and deep empathy for the emotionally dramatic stakes in flux. “This is a love story for which perfect technique is not enough,” Kukhar explains. “The smallest details — a gentle touch, a shy smile, a quick glance — are essential to the role.”

WHITE DEATH:The Wilis, vengeful spirits of the underworld, wander the forest in ‘Giselle,’ which will be performed by the Grand Kyiv Ballet at Atlanta’s Symphony Hall on Friday, March 15. PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy Grand Kyiv Ballet


Famously, Giselle includes a mad scene, which, according to Kukhar, “is impossible to fake. It must be felt.” In the scene, Giselle expresses a combination of helplessness, grave disappointment and great loss when she learns that her lover has betrayed her.

“This story can be understood by a woman who has been through such a betrayal,” Kukhar says. “Any audience member who watches the mad scene should have chills down their spine.”

Incredibly, life during wartime in Ukraine includes artistic pursuits of the highest order, which serve to bolster morale and unify the citizenry in resistance to Putin’s aggression. But, wait, there’s more.

“We want people to come to the ballet to forget about their problems at their homes, at their work,” Stoianov explains. “Like at church, the theater is a place where people can clear the spirit and receive good emotions. For us, this is very important because art is the most powerful weapon.” —CL—
$29-$124. Doors 7 p.m., performance 8 p.m. Atlanta Symphony Hall, The Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta, 30309 (404) 733-4800.

Elsewhere this month:


Sat., Mar. 2


EAR POLLEN PT. 2: Klimchak will perform with Ipek Eginli (pictured) at Atlanta Contemporary Sat., Mar. 2, at 4 p.m. PHOTO CREDIT: Steve West

Ear Pollen: Ipek Eginli & Klimchak, Atlanta Contemporary — In the second installment of Ear Pollen, a monthly series of improv duets curated by Klimchak, the mad scientist/percussionist is paired with Turkish-born Ipek Eginli, who specializes in “electroacoustic improvisation” on piano, voice, and modular synthesizers. Eginli recently received the Reiser Atlanta Artists Lab grant from the Alliance Theater as lead artist for a multimedia project titled “Hold on to Your Names.” Ear Pollen concerts are free, but Atlanta Contemporary is limiting attendance, so be sure and register at the link below.
Free with registration. 4 p.m. Atlanta Contemporary, 535 Means Street NW, Atlanta, 30318. 404-688-1970.



Tue., Mar. 12


WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH: Ensemble vin — from left, Nicole Frankel, flute; Choo Choo Hu, piano; Emily Koh, composer, double bass; and Laura Usiskin, cello — perform works by female-identifying composers Mar. 12. PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy ensemble vin

Ensemble Vim, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church — In celebration of Women’s History Month, ensemble vim, along with soprano Jaimie Jordan, present “vimmen for women.” The program includes the world premiere of “Good Bones,” a new commission by Atlanta violinist and composer Alice Hong.
Free. 7:30 p.m. St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 435 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta, 30308. (404) 873-7600.





Wed., Mar. 13


DANCING ON THE EDGE: Dancer Lina Azalea Dahbou (pictured) is one-half of the New York-based duet DSM-69 (the other half being Matt Luczak). The two will take part in Magic Lantern #113, Wed., Mar. 13. PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Luczak

Magic Lantern #113 — Majid Araim’s wonderful series of house concerts featuring avant-garde musicians and performers from all over the planet continues Wed., Mar. 13. The evening’s lineup includes DSM-69, which is Matt Luczak, billed as a “harsh noise artist & improvisatory drummer” from Catskill, New York, and Lina Azalea Dahbour, a “dancer & DIY producer” from Kingston, New York. Araim is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, educator, curator, visual artist, researcher and a fixture of the Atlanta improvisation and new music communities. His work as a composer focuses on resonance and dynamics and experimental approaches oriented towards the natural world and fantasy realms. Other acts TBA.
$15 suggested, NOTAFLOF. Doors 8 p.m., performance 8:30 p.m. Private residence (open to the public), 2171 Star Mist Drive, SW. Atlanta, 30311


Thu., Mar. 14


KOTO EXPERIMENT: Experimental composer, improviser, koto player and cellist Marie Carroll will be performing at Gallery 992 on Thu. Mar. 14. PHOTO CREDIT: Shley

Marie Carroll, Pen & Bow, Gallery 992 — An evening of improvised music and poetry looms in the West End. Marie Carroll is an experimental composer, improviser, koto player and cellist based in Connecticut. Sharing the bill is Pen and Bow — Victoria Register and Solomon Kim — an Atlanta-based a cello-poetry duo exploring the intersection of free improvisation and spoken word.
$15. Doors 8 p.m., performance 8:30 p.m. Gallery 992, 922 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. Atlanta, 30310. (678) 974-8144



Fri., Mar. 15


EN POINTE DURING WARTIME:‘Giselle’ is presented by the Grand Kyiv Ballet Mar. 15. PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy Grand Kyiv Ballet

Grand Kyiv Ballet, Giselle, Atlanta Symphony Hall — Don’t miss this one-night-only performance of Giselle by dancers from the National Opera and Ballet of Ukraine. Giselle tells the story of a peasant girl who falls in love with a nobleman disguised as a commoner.  Atlanta is one stop on a 60-city tour by the Grand Kyiv Ballet. For more information, and an interview with the principals, see “Listening Post” feature elsewhere.
$39.75-$124.75. Doors 7 p.m., performance 8 p.m. 1280 Peachtree St. NE. 404-733-4800.


Wed., Mar. 20


TWEET: In a lecture and chamber music program called ‘The Language of Birds,’ violinist Tracy Woodard and pianist Emily Bragg will perform at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. PHOTO CREDIT: Walt Tyszka

The Language of Birds, Chattahoochee Nature Center — Science and music and songbirds, oh my! For this special event, Emory University scientist Amanda Jacob answers the question, “How do birds learn complex languages?” Following Jacob’s presentation, violinist Tracy Woodard and pianist Emily Bragg will perform a program of chamber music featuring works by Antonio Vivaldi and R.V. Williams, among others. Hosted by the Atlanta Science Festival.
Free. 7 p.m. Chattahoochee Nature Center, 9135 Willeo Road, Roswell, 30075.



Thu., Mar. 21-Sun., Mar. 24


THUMBS UP: ‘Thumbs Up for Mother Universe,’ Atlanta-based filmmaker George King’s fascinating documentary about artist/musician Lonnie Holley, plays at The Tara Thu., Mar., 21 through Sun., Mar 24. Holley and King will host a Q&A at Thursday’s screening. PHOTO CREDIT: George King

Thumbs Up for Mother Universe: Stories from the Life of Lonnie Holley, The Tara — Filmed over a 25-year period, Thumbs Up for Mother Universe chronicles the extraordinary life and career of Lonnie Holley. Born in 1950 in Birmingham, AL, the seventh of 27 children, Holley endured an incredibly brutal and disadvantaged upbringing, from which he nevertheless drew inspiration to produce deeply poignant art and, later, imaginatively improvised music, for which he is known the world over. Atlantan George King’s feature length documentary delves into Holley’s creative process including his insights into conservation, ecology and the environment, and visionary sources, which are rooted in southern life and African American history and culture. For the Thu., Mar. 24, screening of Thumbs Up for Mother Universe, Holley and King will be on hand for a live Q&A session. — Doug DeLoach
Call theatre or check website for times and ticket prices. The Tara, 2345 Cheshire Bridge Rd NE, Atlanta, GA 30324. 470-567-1968.


Sat., Mar. 30


HIGH PRAISE: The Ain’t Sisters — Barb Carbon (guitar) and Arrie Bozeman (rmandolin) perform at The EARL Mar. 30. PHOTO CREDIT: Kate Moore

Blair Crimmins & the Hookers, The Ain’t Sisters, The Earl — Atlanta-based neo-hot-jazz-ragtimers Blair Crimmins and the Hookers team up with indie folk rockers The Ain’t Sisters for a swingin’ show at The Earl. Both bands feature super-tight instrumentation, fine vocalizing and offbeat jags on familiar genres, which makes for a wildly energetic romp that feels like yesterday’s today or vice-versa. As Blondie Strange from The Clermont Lounge says about The Ain’t Sisters, “These girls need to be our damn house band!”
$20 adv-$25 door. 8 p.m. 488 Flat Shoals Ave. SE.