6 minute read 21 Mar 2023
© Altin Kaftira

The beauty of defiance – The United Ukrainian Ballet Company

By EY Netherlands

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

6 minute read 21 Mar 2023

Brought together by war, the United Ukrainian Ballet Company delivers a high quality performance of Dancing in Defiance and fuels confidence in the future.

In short

  • Dancing in Defiance is a poignant, energetic and hopeful performance by the United Ukrainian Ballet Company.
  • An expression of defiance against the war, shaped with beauty, discipline, music, dance and love.

Ksenia Novikova, from Kharkiv has been dancing since she was four. It is her way of expressing thoughts and feelings. When war broke out in Ukraine, it caused the ground beneath her feet to disappear. "If you can't practice your beloved profession it's like you don't exist - there's no place left where you can find yourself1.”

Ksenia is one of over 60 Ukrainian dancers who, after a hurried flight from their homeland, have found a place with a new ballet company: The United Ukrainian Ballet. Using The Hague as their new, temporary home, they can train, live and express their culture.

The war in Ukraine has major geopolitical and economic effects. Poignant are all the personal stories and experiences of our colleagues with relatives in Ukraine and Russia. Some of them have only recently arrived in the Netherlands, others have been here a little longer. A number of Ukrainian colleagues and a Russian colleague attended the premiere of Dancing in Defiance with board chairman Jeroen Davidson. "It's hard to imagine in present-day Netherlands what it means to flee," says Jeroen. "What it is like to leave everything you had behind and build a new life solely based on your own talent and in dependence on others. This also applies to some of our own colleagues, for that matter. That is why I am glad that we can support the United Ukrainian Ballet financially and be here today."

You can’t kill the dance2

In a sold-out theater in Amstelveen, Dancing in Defiance premiered on Sunday, March 12. A unique triple bill featuring work by top contemporary choreographers; Alexei Ratmansky, Jiří Kylián, and Sol Léon and Paul Lightfoot. Three performances that each in their own way fit this extraordinary company brought together by war. Each dancer has his or her own story, but what unites them is uncertainty and their fight against war, which they shape together - side by side - with beauty, discipline, love, music and dance.

It is so important to feel the support not only on a governmental level but also on a personal and moral level. It strengthens us that we have so many friends and supporters.
Liubov Kudlai
EY Assurance

Falling Angels – confidence in each other

The evening opened with Falling Angels, a piece by choreographer Jiří Kylián (Czech Republic, 1947) who was artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theater for nearly 25 years. A dance for eight women, accompanied only by drums. The piece was written by Kylián back in 1989, about the paradox of working together synchronously and yet manifesting yourself as an individual. The women play with light and darkness, seeking freedom and individuality but also needing each other. Through the pounding drums, you feel panic and urgency, but also trust in each other, in the collective. With the dancers' circumstances in mind, this interpretation of the piece gains a special extra charge.

The short film projected at the start of the performance provided a dramatic setting. We see one of the dancers calling his father at the front just before a rehearsal. The father speaks of heavy attacks the previous day and that only a few of his platoon's men survived. The boy's face tightens, he says he is glad his father made it out okay and urges his father not to worry about him, he is fine. Then he ends the conversation.

Liubov Kudlai, working at EY Assurance was honored to be at the premiere. “It's so impressive how the dancers keep their focus on their work while living from news report to news report, from phone call to phone call. It's so hard for artists. This is an unforgettable night where it's not just about dance, but about being true to your roots.”

Wartime Elegy – confidence in a peaceful future

The second performance piece of the evening is Wartime Elegy by Russian-Ukrainian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, which had its Dutch premiere on March 12. The choreographer describes the work as a love letter to the Ukrainian people, a tribute to the pleasure they derive from their own culture, and homage to their resilience and hope for a peaceful future. A lovely dance to music by Ukraine's most famous living composer Valentin Silvestrov, interspersed with upbeat traditional folklore music. The projections in the background reinforce the contrast. An abstract drawing of a wounded body, alternating with the colorful folkloric paintings. 

This performance makes you feel the pain and fear of war, and at the same time the dancers engage you in their confidence and hope for the future.
Jeroen Davidson
country managing partner van EY Netherlands

Step Lightly – confidence in family ties

Step Lightly was the third part of the triple bill. The choreographer duo Sol Léon and Paul Lightfoot met in the early 1990s at the Nederlands Dans Theater. After their dance and choreography careers, they became artistic advisors and directors of NDT. Step Lightly was their first joint work. The piece is about the power of family ties and the sense of unity and security of both born and chosen family. Again, a theme that gains additional weight with the United Ukrainian Ballet Company, involuntarily brought together by war, but strong as a collective. 

Being far from home and yet surrounded by my own people really makes me feel good. The praise and response makes us feel supported.
Maryna Andriichenko
EY Assurance

Gopak – confidence in one's roots

Ratmansky's performance is his personal response to the war. The performances by Kylián and by Léon and Lightfoot are a gesture from the Dutch dance world to the Ukrainian company to give them a warm welcome. The sold-out Amstelveen theater received a dazzling encore from the company. An energetic and acrobatic Gopak3, sometimes referred to as the national dance of Ukraine. The pleasure of the dancers, encouraged by the many Ukrainian guests in the hall, was palpable.

“The Gopak always makes me very happy. It brings back childhood memories, when I was a proper bouncy child and always wanted to dance with the boys,” beamed Rymma Fazliakhmedova, EY Financial Services Organization afterwards. “It was a wonderful evening that let us go home happy and hopeful.”

The United Ukrainian Ballet Foundation

The United Ukrainian Ballet Foundation was established by Dutch ballet dancer Igone de Jongh and Matthijs Bongertman, CEO of Senf Theaterpartners. The initiative supports refugee Ukrainian dancers and serves to protect, support and promote the visibility of Ukrainian dance and ballet culture.

This culture has been under great pressure since the Russian invasion. Therefore, The United Ukrainian Ballet Foundation has two principal activities:

  • The United Ukrainian Ballet Company, a company of over 60 Ukrainian soloists, ensembles, creatives and technicians. They convey the Ukrainian dance and ballet culture worldwide through performance and storytelling. Igone de Jong directs this company together with choreographer Alexei Ratmansky.
  • In addition, there is the Dutch Centre For Ukrainian Dancers where dancers can get back in shape under the guidance of Rinus Sprong..

For a list of performances, visit: unitedukrainianballet.com


The United Ukrainian Ballet Company's performance Dancing in Defiance is impressive in its beauty. The contrast between the pain and fear of war and the beauty and hope of dance leaves the audience with confidence in a peaceful future.

About this article

By EY Netherlands

Multidisciplinary professional services organization