Ukrainian ballerina uprooted by war flies high again in Swan Lake

March 21, 2023 - 3:24 PM
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Ganna Muromtseva, 29, a professional ballerina from Ukraine who fled her country after Russia’s invasion, performs during a semi-open dress rehearsal for the Swan Lake ballet at the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest, Hungary, March 16, 2023. Muromtseva left Ukraine with just a bag when she was at the peak of her career at the National Opera of Ukraine, and after a year of trying to survive from one day to another and rebuilding herself as a dancer physically and mentally, she is now back at the top with the role of the White Swan and the Black Swan, which she had danced for more than five years as part of her Ukraine company in Kyiv, China and Tokyo before. "I'm happy to make a story on stage again," she said. "It is a totally different production (in Budapest), for me it feels like I really have to prove ... You have to be...very flexible in your head, not (just) in your body." (Reuters/Marton Monus)

 After the lights dim in Budapest’s magnificent Opera House, Ukrainian ballerina Ganna Muromtseva flutters high with undulating arms in the lead role of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet. At the end, the audience bursts into applause.

One year ago, the 29-year-old dancer fled Ukraine’s capital Kyiv on a packed train with thousands of other refugees after the Russian invasion, wondering if she would ever be on stage again.

Muromtseva was at the peak of her career at the National Opera of Ukraine when the war rewrote all her plans.

She last performed in Kyiv on Feb. 22, 2022.

Then on March 3, she was on a train with a friend, taking turns to share one seat during a grueling 12-hour journey to western Ukraine. She found a driver for her mother and grandmother and convinced them to also leave Kyiv as Russian bombs started to rain down.

They all met up in Lviv and travelled to Belgium, welcomed by a family where she had once stayed on vacation as a child.

Muromtseva even left her pointe shoes behind in Kyiv, as all she could pack was one bag.

“When I left Kyiv I even did not count that I will dance any day again. I said bye-bye to my career,” she said between rehearsals in Budapest to play the demanding dual role of ethereal white swan Odette and deceptive black swan Odile.

Muromtseva had danced the role, considered a tour de force for the best ballerinas, for more than five years with her home company in Ukraine, China and Japan.

Back at the top

Performing it at the Hungarian State Opera was a dream: back at the top after a year of surviving from one day to another and rebuilding herself as a dancer physically and mentally.

At a public dress rehearsal, Muromtseva enchanted the audience with her passionate and hypnotic performance.

“I’m happy to make a story on stage again,” she said.

“It is a totally different production (in Budapest). For me it feels like I really have to prove (myself) …. You have to be…very flexible in your head, not in your body.”

The Ukrainian works on her mental balance each day, going out for long walks, and has made new friends since she arrived in Budapest last summer.

Tough training and a tight schedule helps get by, Muromtseva said, though back in her rented flat, she sometimes cries to let it all out.

“We call it war-life balance, not work-life balance any more. It was difficult, now it’s getting a little bit easier.

“Do what you love and then you have power to do what you have to do.”

Muromtseva was registered as a refugee in Germany last year where she was offered new pointe shoes and a place to practice, before she auditioned for the job at the Hungarian State Opera, which has Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian dancers among its soloists and international corps de ballet.

Her mother and grandmother returned to Kyiv last year and she is happy to be close to them in a neighbouring country in case they need help. Her mother plans a visit to see her in Swan Lake at the end of March, which gives her emotional strength.

“It means a lot for me, as she and grandfather were always my biggest support in ballet,” she said.

Muromtseva’s father also lives in Kyiv, and her godfather was just back injured from the front line after several months, she said.

Though the Hungarian State Opera has hired her for another year and she is happy with her new opportunity, Muromtseva would naturally like to return home one day.

“I am waiting for this day, that one day I can dance on Kyiv stage again, but for now I have a contract here.”

—Reporting and writing by Krisztina Than;Editing by Andrew Cawthorne