Life & Culture

Dancing for Ukraine: Ballet Company made up of refugees from the war to perform Giselle at the London Coliseum

Jaffa-based British-born dance producer Paul Godfrey has brought the company to London for the show


In bleak times culture is one of the only things that survives.

The newly-formed Ukrainian Ballet Company comprises dancers who have fled the conflict and are now living and working in the safe haven of the former Royal Conservatoire in The Hague.

From 13 to 17 September the company will perform Giselle at the London Coliseum in a production specially created by the choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, who has Jewishheritage.

He is the former artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet and artist in residence at the American Ballet Theatre since 2009.

All profits from ticket sales will go to the the DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal and the United Ukrainian Ballet Foundation.

The task of bringing the dancers to London has been overseen by Jaffa-based British-born music, dance and events producer Paul Godfrey.

“I was relaxing on the banks of Lake Maggiore when I got a call from friends at the Coliseum to let me know there was a week free in September and did I have anything up my sleeve,” says Godfrey.

“I called Alexei, who I knew from working with the Bolshoi over the years, and I asked him if he wanted to do something with me. He didn’t hesitate.”

Godfrey’s connection with Russian ballet and music began in his student days.

“After my A levels at University College School I went on to study Russian and Soviet Studies at Portsmouth Polytechnic.

"The course involved a year at Leningrad University. It was 1985, the period of glasnost, and a lot of the cultural activities were taking place secretly. I got involved in managing a group of underground rock and roll band players — that’s how I got into the world of entertainment.”

Since then he has built an impressive network of cultural contacts and event management.

“When I was starting up I secured a contract interpreting for the Borodin String Quartet, when they were performing in Aldeburgh. Whilst there I was asked to tour manage other top Russian classical musicians. It worked well for the artists because I spoke Russian and knew the UK.

"This led me to connect with the legendary impresarios Victor and Lilian Hochauser. It was 1993, and the door had opened for me to the opera and dance world.”

By the mid 1990s Godfrey was working with the Kirov and Bolshoi, managing their tours to the Coliseum and the Opera House, overseeing both technical production and management.

During a period of 10 years or so Godfrey brought many Russian and Eastern European ballet companies to the UK and produced around 150 performances a year.

When the Russia-Ukraine conflict began, Godfrey knew it would be the end of an era for his work. “Like everyone else I tried to persuade myself that the war wasn’t going to happen. I was due to be working with the Bolshoi and had a tour lined up which was cancelled.

Simply put, on 24 February 2022, it was goodbye to 35 years of my life. I knew I would never get to work with the Bolshoi again. There was no time for sadness, regret or doubt.

Those relationships would change. A huge number of people left Russia, but many are there still there keeping quiet and unable to speak.”

The Ukrainian Ballet Company has grown from only 12 female dancers in April this year, to 70 today. When the Giselle project came to The Hague, many female dancers scattered across Europe joined.

The male dancers had to be given exemption from remaining in the Ukraine and joining the army due to their cultural mission to keep alive a generation of dancers.

Some of the dancers have fled to The Hague with their families and others have journeyed alone.

They all worked with state theatres in Odessa, Kharkiv and Kyiv, and each has a sad story of leaving their home and going to an uncertain future. Anastasia Mirraslavska, 19, was living in Kyiv when the war broke out.

She fled to The Hague via Poland, leaving the rest of her family behind, but they understood that she was young and if she stayed at home it wouldn’t help anyone.

Godfrey is grateful to have had the opportunity to work with and for the dance company.
“Of course the long-term goal is to disband, we don’t want to keep everyone as refugees, but at least these dancers will go back home having worked with some of the world’s top coaches and choreographers.”

Tickets available from
The production is supported by English National Opera which provided their orchestra and Birmingham Royal Ballet loaned the sets and costumes.

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