Chicago's Joffrey Ballet Faces Backlash Over Russian Ballet Programming

After promoting their upcoming run of Anna Karenina, the Joffrey has faced backlash for programming Russian culture following the country's invasion of Ukraine.

By: Feb. 13, 2023
Chicago's Joffrey Ballet Faces Backlash Over Russian Ballet Programming
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In March 2022, The Joffrey Ballet announced their 2022/2023 season, which included Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, choreographed by Russia's Yuri Possokov. The production is scheduled to run from February 15th through 26th, 2023.

That announcement didn't make waves, but following a post promoting the upcoming performances on Facebook on January 30th, Chicago's Ukranian Community and their supporters have taken to the platform and elsewhere to vocalize their objections to the promoting of Russian culture while the country continues to invade Ukraine.

"Shame on you. Russia is killing Ukrainian ballet dancers but you think it's a good idea to promote Russian culture?" wrote one commenter.

"Russia has [the] blood of innocent people on its hands, including dancers. This is a shame to promote their culture at this time." wrote another.

In a statement, the Ukranian Confress Committee of America - Illinois Division wrote "The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America vehemently condemns the immoral use of cultural events to promote the image of russia as a state of great culture, that attempts to legitimize Putin while he conducts the criminal unprovoked war against Ukraine, and the intentional genocide of the Ukrainian people. Millions are witnessing the horrors committed by russia in Ukraine, while culture is used as a tool to influence audiences to the acceptance of Russia as a cultured benign country, while using the beauty of ballet and music."

"On behalf of all the victims who were killed, and those still suffering, we make this statement to condemn the use of cultural events to promote Russia's positive image, and its callous acceptance during the Russian continuation of horrific agonies."

Chicago has the second largest Ukranian community in the United States, with New York taking the top spot. There are aproximately 200,000 Ukranian Americans who live in Illinois, and 50,000 of them reside in Chicago.

News outlets have reported that Ukranian Ballet dancers have been killed on the battlefield, including the National Opera of Ukraine's Oleksandr Shapoval. As of February 8th, 42,000 people have died as a result of Russia's invasion in Ukraine, 15,000 people have been reported missing, and 14 million have been displaced. 140,000 buildings have been damaged valued at aproximately $350 billion.

In a statement to Parade, The Joffrey wrote "The Joffrey Ballet stands with Ukraine, and we hold Ukrainians in our hearts while applauding their courage. We hope their pain and oppression ends in peace. Since our founding in 1956, we have engaged artists from around the world to tell compelling stories that explore human emotion. Artistic adaptations of historical pieces of literature about our humanity have the transformative power to create a space for meaning, reflection and healing while allowing us to connect to our past, present, and future."

The Joffrey, in their season announcement, described the production as "Love is all-consuming for the beautiful but married Anna, who finds herself caught in a life-changing affair with the dashing Count Vronsky. Set in the late 19th century of Imperial Russia, Possokhov's immersive adaptation-winner of the 2019 "Oscars of Dance" Benois de la Danse International Prize for Best Choreography-returns to the Joffrey for the first time since its successful world premiere in 2019. This blockbuster ballet, based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy, features an original composition by award-winning composer Ilya Demutsky, costumes and sets by Emmy-Award-winning designer Tom Pye, and lighting by famed designer David Finn."

Photo: Alberto Velazquez and Victoria Jaiani in Yuri Possokhov's "Anna Karenina," a Joffrey world premiere in 2019. Photo: Cheryl Mann