Mariinsky Dancers Barred From Youth Ballet Gala in New York

Mariinsky Dancers Barred From Youth Ballet Gala in New York

Two dancers from the Mariinsky Theater in Russia were barred from performing at a youth ballet gala in New York this week after their participation drew criticism from pro-Ukrainian officials and activists.

The dancers had been set to take part in two performances, at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, that celebrate the 25th anniversary of Youth America Grand Prix, a prestigious ballet competition and scholarship program based in New York.

But Youth America Grand Prix’s leaders removed the dancers from the program after critics said the organization was lending support to the Russian government by hosting the artists. The Mariinsky is a state-run theater in St. Petersburg led by the conductor Valery Gergiev, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.

Youth America Grand Prix said in a statement that the decision “gives us great pain.” It said that in the hours before the first performance on Thursday, it had learned — along with Lincoln Center and others in the ballet world — of possible protests. After consulting with New York City Ballet, which operates the Koch Theater, it said that “it was agreed to cancel the performances of the scheduled Mariinsky Ballet dancers.”

“Art should unite us, not divide us,” Larissa Saveliev, the founder of Youth America Grand Prix, said in a statement. “In a difficult period, ballet should be healing. This is terribly sad.”

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Russian artists and institutions have come under intense scrutiny on the global stage. The Bolshoi Theater in Moscow and the Mariinsky have faced cancellations abroad and have lost prestigious partnerships. Some stars, including Gergiev, who also leads the Bolshoi, and the soprano Anna Netrebko, have been shunned in the West because of their ties to Mr. Putin.

Still, a vast majority of Russian artists have continued to perform without trouble on leading stages, including in New York, and Russian works are still widely performed in the West.

Maria Khoreva, one of the Mariinsky dancers who was set to appear in New York this week, expressed disappointment about the decision. In an Instagram post, Khoreva, who is from St. Petersburg, said the Mariinsky dancers had been rehearsing on Thursday when the decision was made to cancel their appearance.

“We are very sorry that our reunion did not take place,” she wrote, “but art will always find a way to human soul.”

Constantine Allen, a principal dancer with the Dutch National Ballet who was set to perform with Khoreva in the pas de deux from the third act of “La Bayadère,” said he felt that the scrutiny of Russian artists was excessive.

“When situations are handled like this, the conversation is blocked,” he said. “It’s a bit of a shame that we weren’t able to share that — me coming from America, her coming from Russia. I thought it was a beautiful moment to let art prevail.”

Ukrainian officials, who have urged a boycott of Russian culture, have continued to speak out against Russian artists, especially those with ties to state-run institutions.

“There is no place for Russia on the international stage,” the Ukrainian consulate in New York said in a Facebook post on Wednesday. It added, “It is totally incomprehensible for Russian artists, dancers, performers to participate in events as if there is no war in Ukraine.”

Demonstrators gathered at Lincoln Center on Thursday evening holding signs reading: “They laugh, we cry. They dance, we die.” A group of young women dressed in white tutus splattered with red paint danced on the sidewalk.

The appearance by the Mariinsky dancers had drawn criticism from some elected officials, including from Michael Novakhov, a Republican in the New York State Assembly, who wrote a letter to Lincoln Center’s leaders this week calling their participation “totally unacceptable.”

With Russian cultural institutions facing new difficulties in the West, the government has tried to strengthen alliances in Asia and the Middle East with mixed results.

In South Korea this week, a planned appearance by a group of Bolshoi principal dancers was canceled at the last minute amid protests about their ties to the Russian state. That followed the cancellation last month of performances in Seoul by Svetlana Zakharova, a Ukrainian-born dancer who dances with the Bolshoi, because of concerns about her past support of Putin.

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