The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Russia’s Bolshoi, Mariinsky cancel top choreographer Alexei Ratmansky

Works by Ratmansky, an outspoken critic of the war in Ukraine, have recently been stripped of his name

American Ballet Theatre dancers rehearse with Alexei Ratmansky, an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin, in 2018. (Rosalie O’Connor)

It appears that Alexei Ratmansky, one of the world’s most famous and esteemed living ballet choreographers, born in St. Petersburg and an outspoken critic of the Russian war in Ukraine, has been canceled in Russia. His name has been removed from his works listed in the repertoires of the Bolshoi and Mariinsky ballet companies.

“It hurts,” Ratmansky wrote in an email to The Washington Post on Friday, “but it didn’t come as a surprise.” A Ratmansky ballet would be prized by any ballet company of note around the world. The creator of musically sophisticated, often witty and classically refined ballets, he has for several years been artist in residence at American Ballet Theatre.

Before that, he was artistic director of the Bolshoi from 2004 to 2009. The Bolshoi is scheduled to perform his “Flames of Paris” on Nov. 13, but its website no longer lists him as choreographer. Similarly, the Mariinsky repertoire lists his productions of “Anna Karenina,” “Little Humpbacked Horse” and “Concerto DSCH,” but his name no longer appears as the creator of any of them.

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Throughout his career, Ratmansky has been widely identified as a Russian choreographer, but he recently told The Post that the war has complicated that. He was born in Russia, but his father is from Kyiv, and Ratmansky grew up there and danced with the Ukrainian National Ballet early in his career. His family and his wife’s family still live in Kyiv. He has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine artists and recently said that, “since the war started, I am absolutely Ukrainian with all my soul, because that is where my heart is.”

When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Ratmansky, who is based in New York, was in Moscow working with Bolshoi dancers. At that time, he said in his email, he asked both the Bolshoi and Mariinsky “to suspend my ballets. Instead, they decided to keep the ballets but suspend my authorship of these ballets. It is illegal, yes, but what is legal in Russia after February 24?” Ratmansky added: “I would like to believe that both theaters were under a lot of pressure, and it wasn’t their own initiative. But who knows.”

Officials at the Bolshoi and Mariinsky did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The move feels sadly familiar to one close observer of the Russian arts. “It’s the old playbook,” said Simon Morrison, a music professor at Princeton University and author of the Russian ballet history “Bolshoi Confidential.” “For centuries Russia appropriated Ukrainian culture while abusing Ukraine, and here Ratmansky, who’s proud of his Ukrainian background, is effectively canceled in Russia for protesting that abuse.”

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