The Korea Herald


Controversy surrounds ‘pro-Putin’ ballerina ahead of Seoul performances

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : March 5, 2024 - 16:15

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"Modanse" (Courtsey of Muzarts, Batyr Annadurdyev, Jack Devant)

Renowned Russian ballerina Svetlana Zakharova’s upcoming shows in Seoul have become embroiled in a pro-Putin controversy, with the Ukrainian Embassy in South Korea expressing strong opposition to her performances here.

The embassy issued a press release Monday, in which it deemed Zakharova’s performances in Seoul as “unacceptable.”

The press release said: "Against the background of escalating hostilities, mass murders and destruction in Ukraine, showcasing the performers of an aggressor-state amounts to legitimization of Russian unjustified aggression and belittling the suffering of the Ukrainian people, which is absolutely unacceptable."

“With all due respect to the pluralism of opinion and inclusive nature of cultural exchange, we call on our international partners to suspend cultural cooperation with the criminal Russian regime and its cultural representatives."

"Modanse" (Courtsey of Muzarts, Batyr Annadurdyev, Jack Devant)

Zakharova is scheduled to perform at the Seoul Arts Center on April 17 and on April 19-21 in the ballet "Modanse." In the double-bill production, Zakharova takes on the lead roles in both episodes, “Gabrielle Chanel” and “Come un Respiro,” with soloists from the Bolshoi Ballet.

The production, which premiered at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre in June 2019, gained much attention for its collaboration with the French fashion house Chanel.

Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov, the "Gabrielle Chanel" episode tells the life story of the iconic fashion designer and businesswoman, Gabrielle Coco Chanel.

Virginie Viard, the creative director of Chanel since 2019, participated in costume design, showcasing over 80 stage costumes.

Svetlana Zakharova (InArts Production) Svetlana Zakharova (InArts Production)

The Ukraine-born Russian ballerina is a two-time winner of the prestigious Benois de la Danse. Zakharova is also associated with the Putin administration, having served as a member of the Russian Parliament under Putin’s United Russia Party.

“This is a performance that we had been planning since four or five years ago, to introduce a novel production that has not been performed in Korea. The performance was postponed (several times) due to COVID-19 and the war broke out unexpectedly,” said InArts Production, which is bringing the ballet piece to Korea.

“It is a work of high artistic quality and (due to Zakharova's age) this visit to Korea may be her last. ... We also firmly believe that wars should never occur. (But) we planned the performance independently of political issues.”

With several other Russian ballet performances scheduled in the coming months, similar controversies are likely to persist.

“The Bolshoi Ballet Gala Concert 2024” is set for April at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, starring lead dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet.

In May, Kim Ki-min, a principal dancer of the Mariinsky Ballet, is set to perform in the gala “Ballet Supreme” with dancers from six ballet companies, including the Mariinsky Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet.